The Mental Health Crisis in Entrepreneurship
“I’m a failure.”
How many times have I heard a founder express this sentiment as their startup begins to crumble or fail?
Too many times.
See, too often, founders associate their identity with the success of their business. And its easy to see why! A startup requires a founder to put their full heart into their efforts. They give it their all. In fact, if they don’t, people like me, or investors, potential partners and customers start to doubt if they should support the business. That doesn’t set up the founders for emotional and mental success within such a volatile space like entrepreneurship where failure is often expected.
According to recent reports led by Intel, 72% of founders suffer from mental health issues and more than a third of those founders also suffer from anxiety.
Let those numbers sink in. This isn’t just a few folks struggling. This is a systemic crisis.
Founders are fighting to gain each business milestone, to feed their families, pay their employees who also have families, navigate market entry, work with and acquire customers, figure out taxes, put out fires daily, and … right… the other stuff: exercise, eat healthy, shower, sleep, maintain friendships, spend time with their loved ones, and all the other necessary tasks we must do to meet our human needs.
And if the founder is a parent who happens to carry the “mental load” for their family? I can’t even begin to write out all the other tasks and stresses on their shoulders.
But to be clear: the human being who stepped out in bravery to create something new and novel, while putting their heart behind it, is incredibly strong, passionate, and persistent. They are not failures. Ever. Regardless if their endeavor succeeds or fails.
I personally believe a founder is more likely to face these intrusive thoughts of being a “failure” if they are tying their worth and value (their core identity) to their business. If someone’s worth and value is being informed only by their role as a founder or influenced only by their business’ traction, then they are likely to experience volatility emotionally.
When I meet and work with entrepreneurs, especially those I have been able to get to know on a personal level, I always encourage them to anchor themselves—their value, worth, and identity—in something bigger than themselves or their business. Whatever source that may be for them: a faith, family, or a belief system.
When we have our worth anchored in something steady and trusted, it doesn’t matter if our company fails. It doesn’t matter if we have a bad day. We know who we are. We know our worth is secure. And we know that we matter. That makes a business’ failure easier to take in stride. That makes an investor’s rejection feel less personal. That makes petty comments or unnecessarily critical feedback less dangerous to our mental health.
So if you’re a founder, consider where your identity lies. Take some precious and coveted time away from your tasks to look inside and decide what is informing your identity.
If you know a founder, below are some ways you may be able to support them:
How can I support Entrepreneurs?
- Be a safe place for venting, talking, and processing as an active listener. Truly listen, make eye contact, and don’t jump into problem solving mode if they aren’t ready for that.
- Reach out. Text a fun meme, picture of you together, or memory and remind the entrepreneur who they are, touching base and checking in with casual, regular outreach.
- Don’t only ever ask about work. Ask about other areas of their life, too.
- Be an outsourced solution. Odds are, the founder doesn’t have the time to make dinner every night or mow their grass every week. Do you live next door and can mow their lawn once this summer? Can you make a double batch of dinner and drop it off? The founder may not know how to ask for help, so offering specific and tactical support mechanisms may be helpful to them.
What can Entrepreneurs do for support?
- Seek community with other founders or like minded individuals who understand your journey, the pressures you face, and can walk life with you. LaunchDayton here locally is a community of entrepreneurs, dreamers, and doers who you could connect with!
- Counseling is a proven practice in navigating mental health issues. You may vent to a friend, but a certified professional can help in ways our loved ones cannot. There are various services at all different price points available, including in-person, Telehealth, and apps on the market such as TalkSpace and BetterHelp. You can also find solutions using this online tool: https://findtreatment.gov/
- Outsource what you can. On the home front (and if you’re financially able to do so) hire a house cleaner to come do spring cleaning or order some meal prep delivery. You may also be able to outsource some of your administrative tasks to an assistant or intern on the work front.
- There are several mental health hotlines out there, but the quickest option, if you need it, is to dial 988. This is a suicide and crisis hotline staffed 24/7 available in English and Spanish.
May is mental health awareness month. I encourage you to reach out to people in your lives to either seek support, offer support, or check in. If you or someone you know needs help, please do not hesitate to reach out to someone and ask for help. If that feels scary, you can call the mental health and suicide prevention hotline for support by dialing 988.
AVP of Entrepreneurial Programs