Entrepreneurs are At Greater Risk Of Mental Disorders: Science Confirms

No successful entrepreneur ever said that building a company was easy. So let’s be honest about how brutal it actually is?

Why did Kate Spade, the founder of the $46.5 million company Kate Spade bags; Mao Kankan, a successful entrepreneur who founded Beijing Times Majoy Technology Co. (valued at $75 billion); and $70 billion company Café Coffee Day’s founder, V.G.Siddhartha, ended up taking their own lives?

If you are an entrepreneur, you probably are living with stress, anxiety, and burnout constantly. A recent study by Michael Freeman stated that 49% of all entrepreneurs at-risk of at least one mental illness. The same study also proved that entrepreneurs are:

  • 2 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts
  • 2 times more likely to be hospitalised for psychiatric ailments

Why Entrepreneurship Affects Mental Health?

In the words of Michael Freeman –

Who in their right mind would choose to be an entrepreneur? The barriers to success are virtually unlimited and most startups fail as a result.

Entrepreneurs have lower initial earnings, lower earnings growth, lower long-term earnings, greater work stress, and more psychosomatic health problems than employees. Why would anyone voluntarily accept the longer work hours, fewer weekends and holidays, more responsibility, chronic uncertainty, greater personal risk and struggle, and greater investment of emotional and physical resources required to be an entrepreneur instead of the security and long-term rewards of having a career? By conventional standards choosing to be an entrepreneur is an exercise in bad judgment.

Entrepreneurs have to multi-task amongst numerous roles and are repeatedly disappointed because of several factors like –

Lost customers, disputes with partners, increased competition, staffing problems, etc.

…all while stressed to make money.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that entrepreneurship involves great levels of anxiety compared to other works. But the picture does not end there. Here are some scientifically researched reasons behind the increasing mental disorders in entrepreneurs:

Innate Character Traits

People who choose entrepreneurship as a career possess certain traits like high energy and enthusiasm and they experience all emotions very strongly.

But the flip side to such inner character traits is that entrepreneurs experience positive and negative emotions to the extreme. They are more likely to have strong thoughts of depression, despair, hopelessness, and worthlessness powerfully.

Obsession

A psychologist at John Hopkins published a book on how most entrepreneurs are so intensely obsessed with their work-life that they turn into hypo-maniacs.

Hypo-mania is a psychological state with increased activity, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, and obsession with a single activity. When an entrepreneur marries his work-life and gets obsessed with the business, s/he is a potential hypo-maniac. Such an intense focus and obsession with is a leading cause of poor mental health amongst entrepreneurs.

Alienation From Social Life

Poor social relationships have become a characteristic of a 21st-century entrepreneur. Even the World Health Organisation and National Institute of Health has identified social relationships as the most important social determinant of life. But the rigorous nature of a startup causes founders to spend lesser time with family, friends, and significant others. They are required to re-locate away from their support networks for strategic reasons. They may stretch a 24-hour day to fit in 30 hours of work just to rise to the top.

As a result, the focus on work grows stronger and other supportive relationships get weaker.

“I Am My Company” Syndrome

Entrepreneurs may treat their business so near and dear that it becomes a synonym for their self-image. The line between themselves and their companies starts to get blurry. But why does this lead to mental health issues? An entrepreneur would say –

“I am just being passionate about my work. I created it and it creates me. We define each other.”

Unfortunately, this is a very common but unhealthy way of building a business. In such cases, people begin to feel company failures as personal failures. The tiniest instances like losing a customer contract or something huge as receiving a “no” from an investor feels like an extremely personal rejection.

Financial Risk

One of the biggest contributors to mental disorders amongst entrepreneurs is the financial risk of starting one’s own business from scratch. Entrepreneurs may have to go months pouring personal capital into their businesses without receiving returns. A certain amount of “skin in the game” can be encouraging, but founders often give in too much turning it discouraging.

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Barriers To Mental Health Experts

Mental health resources, even in the 21st century, are not available for everyone. But access to mental health resources is even more limited for entrepreneurs because traditional employees may have a counsellor at their office but entrepreneurs have nowhere to go; mostly because entrepreneurs:

  • Don’t factor in therapy in their budget
  • Feel that stress and worrying is the way of an entrepreneurial life
  • Are unaware of the importance of mental health for a successful business
  • Are scared of the stigma attached to therapy, counselling, and psychiatric treatment

Entrepreneur Mental Health Statistics

Entrepreneurs are At Greater Risk Of Mental Disorders: Science Confirms 1
Image Source – Shopify

Entrepreneurs are:

  • Twice more likely to have lifelong depression
  • 6 times more likely to have Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder
  • 3 times more likely to be addicted to toxic substances
  • 11 times more likely to be bipolar (extreme happiness – extreme anxiety)

Despite these intense statistics, a small 15% of entrepreneurs actually report their mental illness. It is high time that the entrepreneur culture addresses mental health and the growing mental disorders amongst their community.

How Entrepreneurship Affects Mental Health?

About one-third of entrepreneurs experience at least one mental illness. Is it just a coincidence that the most brilliant minds struggle the most?

Research says otherwise.

Here’s how entrepreneurs are more prone to mental illnesses:

Entrepreneurship Depression

Entrepreneurs are known to be twice more likely to suffer from depression than traditional employees.

Depression and sadness are different among entrepreneurs. Sadness comes in waves and is more general. For instance, if an entrepreneur has to sell off belongings to raise money, s/he might get sad for a while. That shouldn’t put him/her into depression.

Depression is more prolonged and intense. Risk-taking fails, unachieved goals, and stagnated progress, become fertile ground for entrepreneurial depression. Entrepreneur depression, similar to other depressive conditions, reduces concentration and affects good decision-making. As a result, things can go from sadness to depression if not treated.

Entrepreneurial Stress

Entrepreneurial stress is an intense feeling of emotional or physical tension. It usually occurs at the beginning of starting one’s own business. Since start-up businesses can change drastically and suddenly, stress and anxiety begin to creep in. Stress can be of two types:

  • Acute stress: Acute stress is when you feel tension for short bursts of time. For instance, if you fought with a friend, family member, or an employee, or if your employee did not turn in work on time, etc.
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress is when you feel tensed and anxious for prolonged periods. This happens very often to entrepreneurs as they are pre-occupied with financial risks, competition, uncertainty, and loneliness.

Acute stress is seen as positive for the mental well being of entrepreneurs. But if an entrepreneur starts to give in more than s/he can handle, acute stress turns chronic. Chronic stress is not known to be a mental disorder but it is a sign of poor mental health because it brings feelings for hopelessness, aimlessness, and un-importance for an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurial Burnout

Burnout is a very common and unaddressed mental ailment amongst entrepreneurs. A study by the Harvard Business Review showed that more than half the respondent entrepreneurs experienced levels of burnout that were even higher than burnout by athletes and college students. The merciless and tasking work schedule of an entrepreneur often leads to chronic stress, which soon turns into burnout. Symptoms of burnout for entrepreneurs include:

  • Feeling tired regardless of how much sleep you get
  • Your inbox is always full but you never feel motivated enough to address all aspects
  • Less excitement about your day from the moment you wake up
  • Reduced inspiration to create proposals and reach out to investors
  • Hiring more employees than your capacity and dumping your work on them
  • Physical symptoms – Headaches, dizziness, nausea, stomach aches, increased perspiration, etc.

Many entrepreneurs often dismiss burnout symptoms as just a part of a hectic schedule, but in reality, it is not a schedule issue it is a mental health issue.

Entrepreneurial Substance Abuse

Entrepreneurs are at a higher risk of substance abuse than the general population. They face continual and significant levels of stress, loneliness, and risk of failure. As the head of an organization, an entrepreneur ought to monitor the behavior of others to ensure that it doesn’t harm the business, but there’s no one to do the same for them. These feasible elements come together to create a perfect environment for substance abuse.

How To Avoid Mental Disorders As An Entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurship can be a wild ride, with ups and downs. But here are common practices entrepreneurs can do to help prevent their lives from spiraling out of control.

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Nurture relationships

Relationships with friends and family members can be very powerful weapons to fight mental disorders.  Entrepreneurs could join a peer group, engage with old friends, go out on date nights with their significant other, and make new friends. Not only are these fun but also a great reminder to entrepreneurs that they have a separate existence from their work.

Turn To Mental Health Resources

Entrepreneurs must always avail of the option of regular mental health check-ups through short counselling sessions and psychometric tests. Entrepreneurs must factor in the costs of such options in their budget and actively engage in asking for help. This is not only important for one’s well-being, but research has proven that stronger mental health increases business turnover and productivity. This is simply because stronger mental health prepares you to critically, calmly, and analytically deal with new challenges thrown at you.

Work On Physical Health

One of the best ways to fight burnout is by being physically active. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem.”

Exercising doesn’t refer to vigorous training and running marathons. But entrepreneurs must factor in at least 30 minutes a day for fitness. This can include simple yoga, stretching, running, walking around the neighborhood, etc. Another great way to develop an exercise regime is by engaging in your favourite sport. Get to learning a new sport or honing your skills for a sport you like.

Work On The Business, Not In It

One of the most common issues leading to burnout is attaching oneself to one’s business. Entrepreneurs may find their own identity wrapped up in their business. The best way to avoid this is to set boundaries between the business and the self. Begin by trying to maintain a journal or a schedule where you write about some personal time for yourself. Take this personal time to think about your personality, your qualities, your hobbies, your childhood, etc. Make sure that you have a definition of your own and your business has a different definition of its own. Such boundaries will help you realise that you work on your business, not within it.

Limit Your Finances

Entrepreneurs might pour too much of their monetary holdings into their business. It’s natural to aim for financial independence. But the financial health of your business can turn too overwhelming. If you do not plan and distribute your finances well, it may dictate where you live, how you live, and how your family lives too.

Therefore, you must stick to rigid financial planning. Plan out the investment sources you would rely on, plan out how much you can pitch in, how much your family can pitch in, but remember to set an upper limit Create a back-up financing plan too, but don’t cross the upper limit.

Divide And Delegate

Entrepreneurship is all about building a business by yourself from scratch. Right?

Wrong! The startup stage is actually a ripe time to distribute responsibility and delegate. Imagine this, if you were a sole proprietor, then delegating work means passing off book-keeping to an accountant or employing a virtual assistant for the task. Studies have shown that business quality and productivity rise as work is planned and delegated. If you micromanage you might end up over-burdening yourself with work, blaming yourself for all business issues, and such events may trigger stress, anxiety, and depression.

There is no perfect way to live the entrepreneur’s life, but the way to survive it well-enough is acknowledging and looking after one’s mental and physical well-being. Renew yourself and your perspective and start over. Starting over is a portion of the process of starting up. The entrepreneurial community must understand better than anyone else.

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