Entrepreneurs, like every other human, experience ups and downs with their mental health. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and external forces like pandemics and recessions can create even greater stress for entrepreneurs who often work alone, or shoulder big risks for their growing companies.
Here are four important things we learned for entrepreneurs to consider when it comes to mental health, and how acknowledging these factors can help you and your team as human beings and as a business.
“It is not uncommon to see tragedy befall the startup community, maybe right before the tipping point in somebody’s business, because the mental game got so muddied and they became so isolated and alone.” Ken Clark, MA, LMFT
Entrepreneurs can help each other by sharing about their struggles
Fear, isolation and lack of access to mental healthcare has serious repercussions for any entrepreneur, small business owner, or employee of any kind. When survival mode is activated by these issues, things that entrepreneurs need to be – creative, innovative, resilient – become virtually impossible.
One big reason people hesitate to reach out for help is the lack of other entrepreneurs out there speaking openly about the fact that they’ve been there, and it’s normal. Without that support, isolation compounds the stress for people who think they’re alone in their experiences. In addition to the human pain and suffering, productivity and executive function can be lost for days, weeks and months.
2. Poor mental health awareness makes team dynamics bad
If an entrepreneur is doing things right, she will become part of a team soon enough. Teams are made of people, who all have their own mental health journeys. It is well known that team culture – and team drama – impacts outcomes for the individual (how it feels to be me as a leader or team member) as well as for the team.
If we in the entrepreneurial community don’t learn to talk about mental health as part of company culture in a proactive fashion, then we’re missing the boat. The best teams lean into and prioritize mental wellness as a group. If you want to build good teams who build big things, where the people stay healthy and don’t implode, you’ve got to integrate mental health into team culture and dynamics.
3. Mental wellness develops grit and resilience
Everyone in the entrepreneurial space values resilience and grit, but few talk about how a person develops those things. The answer? You guessed it: mental wellness. It’s a muscle that can be flexed and strengthened, just like any other.
The majority of businesses fail not because they didn’t have a good idea, but because they couldn’t hold on long enough to reach critical mass. Entrepreneurship is a brutal journey, and 10 years is the industry benchmark for knowing if a business is going to make it. Getting through 10 years is a long slog, and we’ve got to help each other access the resources to hold on when things get really tough. The mental health discussion is the best way to teach people how to develop mental resilience and grit, especially via destroying isolation through community.
4. Supporting the supporters
Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t only affect the individual. The waves of change rock everyone around the new business owner: spouse, kids, parents, friends. The intensity and stress of ditching a job with benefits, working late nights, all of the challenges and emotions, collide with everyone in an entrepreneur’s circle. If we don’t support the people who are supporting the entrepreneurs at ground zero, the whole system crumbles.
When conflict inevitably arises, especially when the interest of the business is not aligned with the real and legitimate interests of loved ones, things can get dicey for everyone involved. Encouragement and empowerment is key, whether it’s through couples’ counseling, family retreats, or support groups.
Mental health, especially for entrepreneurs, is typically remediative these days. In other words, you’re broken, now we have to get you fixed. But mental wellness is the entrepreneurial version of training for a marathon. You have to put the effort in ahead of time so that you’re ready when the hard part comes.
These issues can make or break the future of your endeavor. But if entrepreneurs take mental health seriously and work proactively, there is an opportunity to flip the script in a transformative way.
This article is our paraphrased recap of The Venture Center’s first #VCHealth event. We will continue this essential conversation on the last Friday of every month this spring, with subject matter experts discussing a range of mental health issues and offering practical advice. Sign up for the VC Newsletter to get the heads up on our mental health series and all of the other events supporting entrepreneurs we’ve got coming up.
UPCOMING VCHealth Event: REGISTER HERE the next event – VCHealth | Mental Health Toolkit for Employers