Entrepreneurs are often thought of as eternal optimists, always pushing forward in the face of all obstacles and ignoring the concerns of others about the future of their enterprises. But the reality may well be that entrepreneurs are more susceptible to depression, loss of motivation, suicidal thoughts and other related mental health issues than those in the general population.
That the life of an entrepreneur is stressful should come as no surprise. From dealing with suppliers, customers and employees to the fiscal concerns of staying in the black, meeting payrolls and even keeping the lights on, entrepreneurs deal with so many more factors than face employees. And while losing one’s job can create difficulties for an employee, losing one’s business often results in the loss of the entrepreneur’s home, vehicle, credit rating and, more importantly, sense of self worth.
In an excellent article in the September 2013 issue of Inc. Magazine, author Jessica Bruder refers to building a company as “psychologically brutal” and discusses “the price so many founders secretly pay”. Citing a number of studies and real-world examples, Bruder shows that the strong emotional states that propel a person into becoming an entrepreneur are closely related to the negative emotional states that become true mental health issues for business founders.
When you look at some of the commonly-touted ways of dealing with depression it’s not difficult to see some of the probable causality. Advice abounds that eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy bodyweight, exercising regularly, avoiding stressful situations and spending time with friends and family – your personal support group – are all a part of positive mental health practices. Ryan Kavanaugh
By contrast, entrepreneurs tend to be fully invested in their startup venture, with little time or attention for anything else. Food is usually an afterthought, gobbled down quickly at their desk or in their vehicle en route to a meeting. Couple that with no time used to stay in shape and it’s easy to see why many add 10, 20 or 50 pounds of bodyfat as they build their business. Add that stress to the enormous amount of stress one experiences in running a business and not only do one’s nerves end up ‘shot’, but all that stress causes the body to release excessive cortisol.
Since cortisol causes the body to store fat and cannibalize muscle, the situation gets even worse. As self-confidence and self-image erode, many entrepreneurs react by throwing themselves more and more into their business pursuits with less and less quality time for family and friends, robbing themselves of the very support network that could help them most.
And all of that is before we add in the two greatest truisms of running your own business: everything takes longer than you planned and everything costs more than you expected. Insufficient capitalization and cashflow shortages are the biggest factors in most business failures, and that added stress is often enough to all but destroy the mental health of even the most resilient of entrepreneurs.
Compounding the problem is the common belief that one can’t show weakness or expose any cracks in the ‘success facade’ – the fear that customers will shy away and that the ‘sharks’ will circle and destroy your business if they sense any weakness. Before long the entrepreneur’s identity is so enmeshed with the business that they lose sight of where the business ends and they begin – survival of the business seems to be tied in with their own personal survival. They’ve become so emotionally invested in their business that they lay awake all night, tossing and turning as they worry about the possible impending downfall. Without realizing it they’ve become emotional cripples – so they continue to fight the good fight and put on a brave public face, all the while becoming more isolated and less productive.