Overcoming Founder’s Blues: How Entrepreneurs Can Recognize and Treat Depression and Anxiety

Worried business man

By Srini Pillay

Mental health is a leading cause of disability in the workplace, yet 71% of U.S. adults will not contact a mental health professional. In fact, people loathe talking about mental health in the workplace, and the C-suite in businesses of all sizes is no exception.

One key reason people do not talk about their mental health is the stigma associated with it. They likely fear that they will be judged and socially discriminated against. In fact, the pressure for them to succeed is huge, and the stakes are often so high that 72% of entrepreneurs report mental health challenges, commonly referred to as “founder’s blues.” For these founders, special risks include losing their funding if they’re judged.

People, unfortunately, have many misconceptions about being judged. For instance, CEOs may feel ashamed they have mental health challenges, but if nearly three-quarters of entrepreneurs report mental health challenges, they are certainly not alone. Also, depressed people often feel like they are odd. Yet the World Health Organization predicts that depression will be ranked as the second largest cause of burden of disease by 2020. One in six people will have depression at some point in their lifetimes, and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses.

Be aware of your feelings

In 2015, psychology professor Michael Freeman researched mental health conditions among entrepreneurs. He found that 49% of entrepreneurs reported struggling with at least one mental health condition, and depression, the number one reported condition, was present in 30% of participants—more than four times the rate of the general U.S. population.

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It would help if small business owners and C-suite executives could self-identify their depression or anxiety. Moodiness and being on edge might be part and parcel of the day in the life of an entrepreneur, but when depression and anxiety start to disrupt your social and work lives, it’s time to start paying attention.

Typically, depression is accompanied by trouble sleeping, poor diet, and lower energy, and you may also find you no longer can concentrate on your work and the work itself feels far less interesting than it used to. Often, entrepreneurs feel guilty about this. And in some cases, they might be slowed down, keyed up, or on edge and, in the worst cases, suicidal. They are all signs of a clinical depression.

Anxiety can also present in a variety of forms. You might notice panic attacks that appear out of the blue, feel excessively worried, or feel anxious in social situations. Each of these types of anxiety connotes a specific type of anxiety disorder and should be attended to. These symptoms are often accompanied by a fear of being able to escape when in crowds, anger, body tension, or a fear of being embarrassed in front of a group.

Although there are no signs of depression or anxiety that are unique to business owners, the stressors that precipitate these syndromes might be situation-specific. Often, the very strengths that make entrepreneurs unique, such as their risk-taking ability, creativity, ability to manage stress, and ability to stand out from a crowd, lead to stressors such as uncertainty, inability to stay in control, burnout, and loneliness.

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