Why Entrepreneurs Are Vulnerable to Mental Health Challenges – And How to Overcome Them

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Everyone knows building a company is difficult – but how many really realize how brutal the process actually is? 583 million people – which is 8% of the world’s population – are now devoting their lives to entrepreneurship. An alarming 72% of these entrepreneurs are affected by a mental health condition! Naturally, deteriorating mental health and the failure to cope with it often becomes the reason several business owners give up on their ideas and hard work, and opt-out of the industry owing to the inability to deal with business failure.

While mental health is a concern for people from all spheres, why is it that entrepreneurs, as a group, seem to particularly be at risk for developing mental health conditions?

The Price of Creativity

There is no denying that entrepreneurs are thought leaders – creative and persistent individuals who want to think outside the box to come up with innovative, profitable solutions. Creativity is often considered a double-edged sword; many creative people throughout history have been seen as ‘different’ people with inventive and fearless minds. More recently, research has shown that these geniuses face a dark side more than the average person. Researchers from the University of California found that nearly half of the surveys entrepreneurs were dealing with at least one mental illness, and about one-third of all entrepreneurs surveys were struggling with two or more mental illnesses – including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and addiction.

Psychiatrist Michael Freeman from UCSF also highlighted that when compared to the average American adult, entrepreneurs are two times more likely to suffer from depression, three times more likely to suffer from substance abuse, six times more likely to suffer from ADHD, and ten times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder.

5 Reasons Entrepreneurs Are at Risk

Despite its glamorization, entrepreneurship comes with mental health risks. Today, research has shown that there are a number of reasons, involving the lifestyle and work of entrepreneurs, that this is true.

1. Stress and Self-Care

The entrepreneurial life tends to be very stressful. Since entrepreneurs do not have working hours and have to make sure they don’t slack because of that, they often follow the ‘never not working’ mentality. Entrepreneurship coaches often also depict the successful lifestyle as having to let go of fun and recreation. It is not uncommon for a new business owner like this to be sleep-deprived and overworked, with very little focus on self-care. Naturally, this can accumulate into serious mental health issues over the long run.

2. Constant State of Uncertainty

Even when people hate their regular jobs, there is one reason they stick to their nine-to-five schedule: certainty. And this is exactly what is missing in the entrepreneur’s lifestyle. Running your own business and making your own work schedule comes with a lot of uncertainty. Regardless of the stage you are at and how successful, you are, there is always a possibility of failing and having to start from square one. Entrepreneurs are therefore more prone to anxiety, which can turn into an anxiety disorder over time.

3. Confused Self Identity

A common problem entrepreneurs often face is having difficulty separating their own identity from their business’s identity. While it may seem productive to entirely submerge one’s self into your business, it is also very easy to get lost when this happens. This means that entrepreneurs end up ignoring their personal selves. This also extends to personal relationships, worries, and goals. This can potentially lead to an identity crisis that can transform into serious mental health issues.

4. Impression Management Pressure

Entrepreneurs operate on the belief that success is not just about building the impression of a brand but of a person. This is why successful entrepreneurs are often also motivational speakers and become coaches later in their careers. With this comes ‘impression management’, which can lead to a lot of stress that comes from having to be perfect in the public eye at all times. Research also suggests that this hampers the development of a true sense of self – since one is always engaged in developing a public self – eventually leading to insecurity and identity confusion.

5. Lack of Resources for Mental Health

Many entrepreneurs don’t realize how much their mental health factors into their success. Additionally, since they don’t have jobs that provide benefits like insurance and mental health counseling, they often have a lack of resources for mental health. When they do, they just don’t factor it into their budget. With mental health struggles going unnoticed and unattended, they tend to turn into serious disorders over a long period of time.

What Is Needed to Help Entrepreneurs

The road to ideal mental health is always a long one that needs willingness and persistence. While the same is true for entrepreneurs, on their own, they can take a number of steps to improve their own mental health:

  • Spend a fraction of their resources, including time and money, on their mental health.
  • Ensure they have a life outside of their work, spend time with themselves and their friends and family, and recharge before returning to work.
  • Set achievable goals, and make it a habit to celebrate small milestones and give themselves some credit.
  • Take regular vacations and avoid making their work their entire life, all year round.

On a larger level, there are a few essential steps that must be taken to improve the situation as soon as possible:

  • Destigmatize mental health and encourage entrepreneurs to openly talk about the mental health struggles they face due to their lifestyle and work.
  • Make wellbeing resources widely available, while encouraging struggling entrepreneurs to seek support and help.