Why Entrepreneurs Need to Talk About Mental Health

Why Entrepreneurs Need to Talk About Mental Health

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  • Did you know 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues (NIMH)? The truth is, starting and running a business can be extremely stressful with many highs and lows.
  • Burnout, isolation from family and friends and the constant stress and pressure of running a business are some of the most common causes of mental health issues.
  • It's important that entrepreneurs are aware of the risks before they start, have access to mental health services and have good support systems in place.
  • Mental health is a topic that needs to be discussed and addressed amongst entrepreneurs. Let's dive in. 

Why would anyone start a business? The odds of success are heavily stacked against you and the rollercoaster of emotions can adversely affect not only you, but your family, friends, peers and other business owners.

In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) states that 60% of new businesses will fail in their first 3 years and approximately 90% will fail within their first 5 years of operation – pretty damning! 

If you were shown these odds before becoming an employee at an established organisation, would you take them?

Why Are Entrepreneurs Vulnerable to Mental Health Issues?

Ask anyone who has undertaken an entrepreneurial journey how they would rate their experience in terms of impacting their mental wellbeing, and I’m almost certain the majority would acknowledge it as being a stressful and highly anxious period of their lives, with a continual roller coaster of highs and lows.

The reality is, it takes strong mental stamina, incredible resilience and unwavering determination to step out of the comfort and security of a 9-5 job and make it on your own. And for those who do take the leap of faith, the chance of success is unfortunately against you from day one.

That said, it's not all doom and gloom and there are plenty of positives to starting a new business, many of which can also become highly addictive.

As someone who has started four businesses in my somewhat short entrepreneurial journey, I can vouch that the thrill of the chase, the excitement of creating your own team, the immense joy of landing your first real client who backs you and the amazing feeling of accomplishment when you sustain a business over time, has far outweighed the multitude of negatives that I have experienced along the way.

Starting a business is a balancing act with no set rules or guides to support entrepreneurs regarding mental wellness. Some people are drawn in by the lifestyle, some are drawn in by the pursuit of following a passion and many are drawn in by the potential to make money; but we must all be aware of the honey trap surrounding becoming an entrepreneur and how to manage mental health. 

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 72% of American entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues (compared with 48% of non-entrepreneurs). This poses the question; do too many of us start a business blinded by the positives and completely ignore the risk of serious consequences linked to business and failure?

The mental health risks for entrepreneurs can include isolation, burnout, anxiety, financial insecurity and various other mental illnesses.

What Are the Main Causes of Stress for Entrepreneurs?

The stress, anxiety and pressure which often weigh entrepreneurs down can often derive from one or a few the following:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Being on call 24/7
  3. Pressure to find the right people, systems and software
  4. Social media envy
  5. Isolation from friends and family
  6. Sales and strategy

1. Fear of Failure 

Entrepreneurs despise the thought of potentially letting down their friends, family, peers, investors and mentors, or even worse, brandishing the dreaded ‘failure’ tag in public.

2. Being On Call 24/7

As soon as you step away from the security of working for an organisation and company, you also step away from the anonymity of responsibility that they can provide you. Startup business owners often work seven days per week with nowhere to hide from clients, orders, suppliers, contractors, employees and being continually attached to work demands.

3. Pressure to Find the Right People, Systems and Software 

Amongst the hectic schedule of starting a business, you also need to learn to take on or outsource essential roles. The pressure is on to find the right people, systems and software to help you through this and getting it wrong can have a lasting impact on your business.

4. Social Media Envy

We all like to follow companies or individuals who we want to emulate. We watch and view their posts or listen to their podcasts and imagine they are crushing it and living the life we want. However, this pressure we place on ourselves to become the next Mike Cannon Brooks or Melanie Perkins creates unrealistic expectations and can lead to disappointment.

5. Isolation from Friends and Family

Your friends may think you are living your dream, but the reality is that starting a business can be a highly lonely and isolating experience. Days are long, nights can be longer, and even weekends can disappear into laptop screens, spreadsheets, meetings and more.

A lot of entrepreneurs miss the lively environments and jovial banter they previously thrived in, and tend to culminate towards other like-minded founders who can sympathise with their struggles. Even the most successful entrepreneurs will tell you that it can be a tough, gruelling slog!

6. Sales and Strategy

Cash flow is king in any type of new business. You may be lucky enough to be good at sales and kick start your business with some clients from the outset, but most entrepreneurs will attest to having a lack of any real long-term strategy to get past their first 12 months – let alone the foresight to survive 3 years or more.

Some entrepreneurs seek investment funding and partners, and some will seek loans or attempt to bootstrap a business. All of these options come with their own issues and stresses related to profit and losses, growing a company or avoiding bankruptcy.

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health as an Entrepreneur 

Entrepreneurs are less likely to have available access to mental health support networks such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) or evidence-based mental health training and courses compared to employees.

With this in mind, do entrepreneurs need to band together to foster a new level of awareness of mental illnesses? Should co-working spaces, successful founders, coaches, mentors and meetup groups start discussing the importance of looking out for each other, supporting each other’s mental well-being and promoting more care along the entrepreneurial journey?

I believe the answer is YES!

We all need to talk more openly about mental health and well-being, and it starts from within. Successful founders and influencers need to stop promoting working 24/7, grinding away all night and locking yourself away in front of screens.

Instead, they should focus on communicating that it's OK to take a break every now and then; it's OK to prioritise your health and make sure you get some sleep! Believe it or not, getting a good night’s sleep is a major contributor to positive mental wellbeing and likely to make you more productive.

It's also time that all entrepreneurs start to prioritise self-care and understand that we are all accountable for our own mental health (just like we are our own physical health). The change needs to start with entrepreneurs knowing how to seek help and undertake mental health training or support if and when required, and more importantly, know that it's OK to reach out to one another for support.

It's normal to ask for help, just as it's normal to ask someone else if they need help.

Below are some mental health support groups and helplines you can reach out to:

Final Note 

So, is the risk of starting a new business worth the potentially heightened risk of exposure to a mental illness or health issue?

The answer is different for every individual, however, if entrepreneurs are made aware of the risks and statistics before they start, they have access to people they can talk to about mental health and put good support systems in place, then they will have a greater chance of personal success. By doing this, I believe entrepreneurs are more likely to find themselves in the 10% of new businesses that will survive their first five years and beyond.

How do you manage your mental health as an entrepreneur? Do you have any tips for managing stress? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Patrick Page

Director at Career Development Centre and Mentally Well Workplaces

Mentally Well Workplaces