May is Mental Health Month in the U.S., so it's a good time to talk about how these issues affect more than just the most vulnerable members of society. According to research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental health issues are a day-to-day reality for many Americans:
- Nearly one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness.
- About 16 million American adults experience a major bout of depression.
I have personal experience here. Entrepreneurs suffering from mental health problems often disregard them. I've been one of these entrepreneurs.
Many of us just keep working to excess. We often do this because we think that as long as we get our work done, that our mental health concerns will go away. If anything, these troubles increase when left unaddressed.
For many years, I worked around the clock--late into the night or early morning--with little sleep. That, along with enormous amounts of pressure to perform, doesn't put anyone in a healthy place. Add money concerns on top of that, and you're looking at some kind of mental health trouble. I've struggled with burnout, depression and anxiety, and other issues.
You have to remember that entrepreneurs often tend to be more driven and passionate with higher expectations for themselves. A study conducted by UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco researchers found that company founders are 50 percent more likely to have some type of mental health issue. These include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
There needs to be a bigger discussion about mental health and the need for entrepreneurs to care for themselves. Here are four coping mechanisms I and others recommend to help you adopt a more proactive approach to your psychological wellbeing as an entrepreneur:
1. Seek out support groups.
Isolation tends to be one of the factors that can lead to mental health issues for entrepreneurs. As someone who often works from home, I've had to watch out for feelings of isolation myself.
Seek out support groups where there's an open environment to talk. Listening can be beneficial.
Think of a support group or circle of trusted people as an anchor in the entrepreneurial storm. This support can come from existing entrepreneur networking groups or new ones.
Even better, turn to people outside of that world. Old friends can help provide an escape through a phone call, an evening out, or a weekend trip.
2. Understand that perspectives on mental health are changing.
Societal perspectives on mental health are a driving force behind why so many people are afraid to share their feelings and emotions. Instead of fearing the effects of mental health, understand where the symptoms come from.
Is it your fear of failure or uncertainty that is causing severe anxiety? Or, do you feel as though the symptoms are worse when you get little to no sleep or have been isolated for a while?
Once you know the reasons, then you can reach out to other sources for help with those root causes. For example, get business advice that may help overcome the anxiety or seek assistance from a medical professional for insomnia. Also, a therapist can provide compassionate care.
3. Give yourself a mentor reality check.
Find an honest mentor. As a voice of reason, they can tell you when you're overworked and need to slow down or take a temporary timeout.
Some of the best advice I've recevied on how to handle stress has come from a close and confidential relationship with a mentor. Any respected colleague in your field could also suggest ways to delegate some of the work that is causing that stress.
An outside voice is often the best source to discuss a self-care plan--and help introduce it as a part of your business strategy.
4. Discussing mental health is not a sign of weakness.
Everyone is different. Visibly showing how stressed you are isn't a sign that you're weaker than someone who shows no visible signs of mental health issues.
No one should feel alone with these emotions and thoughts. Even if you don't struggle with mental health problems, you can make a difference for someone you care about, whether they're a colleague, mentor, investor, or friend.