Mental Health and The entrepreneur
When you own and run your own business, you’re responsible for so much. Scheduling and completing projects, managing employees, and covering expenses are just a few of the things you do to keep things afloat.
These responsibilities require physical and mental energy. Sometimes, they can sap this energy, endangering our health and leaving us to wonder how much more we have to give.
Mental health issues affect 72% of entrepreneurs and only 48% of non entrepreneurs, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Difficult enough on their own, mental health issues can also contribute to other disruptive conditions. People might use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms, or their mental health struggles might cause or exacerbate physical issues.
Some common mental health-related issues among entrepreneurs include:
Who hasn’t experienced at least some anxiety since early 2020? Living in unprecedented times has been difficult for many. Researchers estimate that anxiety disorders jumped 26% in 2020, which amounts to millions of people.
Entrepreneurs have faced particular stress. Due to the pandemic, many have faced:
Shutdowns or limited business hours.
Supply chain slowdowns and shortages.
Employees who are sick, take time off to care for sick loved ones, are afraid of becoming sick, or leave their jobs.
Economic problems due to higher costs and/or lower profits.
Uncertainty and changes have produced stress and anxiety. A 2021 survey of about 1,000 people who owned and operated small businesses found that 45% experienced anxiety and 52% experienced stress.
Pandemic-related concerns have also contributed to depression among entrepreneurs.
Depression affects people in different ways, but some typical signs can include:
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness.
Slow thoughts and actions.
Guilt or feelings of unworthiness.
Tiredness, sleeping more or less than usual, insomnia, or lack of energy.
Thoughts of suicide or death.
Suicide attempts, suicide.
Irritability, anxiety, agitation, or restlessness.
Concentration, memory, thinking, or decision-making problems.
Physical problems such as headaches or other pain.
Such symptoms are common. In a 2020-2021 poll, 30% of British business owners said they experienced depression in the previous year. Meanwhile, 82% said they experienced poor mental health.
Substance abuse and addiction
Problems with alcohol and drugs frequently accompany anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Running a business and having others depend on you is stressful, and it can cause depression and anxiety. People might drink or use drugs to try to change the way they feel.
But being drunk or high is a temporary state. When those feelings end, people might feel worse than before, so they might turn to alcohol and drugs again. If they continue to self-medicate, people might need larger amounts of substances to feel anything. They could become mentally and physically dependent, even addicted.
To further complicate matters, some business owners cultivate professional relationships by taking the wine and dine approach. They could be treating clients and employees to dinners and other events where alcohol might be prominent.
According to some, people can also become addicted to working or starting new businesses. Like addictions to drugs or alcohol, compulsive business-related activities can dominate people’s lives, damage relationships, cause them to neglect other responsibilities, and produce other negative effects.
People who are hooked on starting new ventures revel in the thrill of the new. But those facing burnout are experiencing the opposite. Instead of embracing a new day, they might be wondering if they have the mental and physical ability to endure it.
Burnout could make people irritable, tired, lethargic, or cynical. They might be struggling with headaches and other symptoms, and they’re probably dreading work, even if it excited them in the past.
Struggling to get through another day, burned out people might use alcohol or drugs or engage in other risky behaviors such as unprotected sex. But these behaviors can cause their own negative consequences, making things worse instead of better.
Isolation and blurred work-home boundaries
Distance can also make matters worse. Some entrepreneurs work alone, while others have employees who work in faraway places. Still other business owners may be separated from workers because of the pandemic or other circumstances.
Regardless of the reason, many entrepreneurs don’t have face-to-face interaction with employees or clients. This distance can make them feel lonely and isolated, further worsening depression and other issues.
Furthermore, while working from home, entrepreneurs might wonder if their workdays ever really end. If they work and live in the same place, it’s easy to send another email message, process the latest invoice, or keep doing the things that need doing.
Even when they’re not sitting behind computers, they might be ruminating on work, and their mental health could be suffering.
Treating mental health matters
Timely treatment can help entrepreneurs manage their mental health.
Different kinds of therapy can be effective. While the idea of therapy may sound intimidating, many therapeutic approaches basically involve talking.
It’s easier than ever to have such conversations because increasingly more therapists are offering sessions through the computer or phone. Such options could be handy for business owners who are strapped for time or need to stay close to their workplaces.
Speaking of computer-based help, people can also visit different websites to find mental health assistance. Some sites allow them to share their experiences to help others. Others have contact information or helpful resources.
Some sites related to mental health include:
Mental Health America - List of contacts for mental health conversations
Mental Health First Aid - Mental health resources
Mental Health Forum - Anonymous forums relating to different mental health issues
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - Lifeline for people with suicidal thoughts or plans
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) - Information about mental illnesses and substance abuse as well as tools to find help
Being an entrepreneur can be rewarding. It can also be challenging to a person’s mental health. But just as collaboration helps workplaces, reaching out can help people survive and thrive.
eship.unc.edu - An Entrepreneur’s Struggle with Mental Health - Q & A with Aaron Houghton
statnews.com - Rates of Depression and Anxiety Climbed Across the Globe in 2020, Analysis Finds
myob.com - Mental Health Top Concern for SMEs, MYOB Research Finds
nimh.nih.gov - Depression
simplybusiness.co.uk - Mental Health Crisis Looming Among SME Owners as Four in Five (82%) Say COVID-19 Has Negatively Impacted Their Mental Well-Being
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com - Stress and Addiction: Is There a Connection?
forbes.com - Entrepreneurial Addiction Is a Real Problem: Here Are the 6 Warning Signs
entrepreneur.com - How to Spot Entrepreneurial Burnout (Before It’s Too Late)
businessfirstonline.co.uk - How Executive Burnout and Stress Relate to Drug Addiction
startupgrind.com - Isolation, Depression & Being an Entrepreneur
businessinsider.com - Work and Leisure Blur in the Home Office, a Study Shows - How You Can Protect Yourself
nimh.nih.gov - Psychotherapies