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The Epidemic in Entrepreneurship: Shedding Light on Founder Mental Health

It’s clear that founder mental health is a topic that needs more attention. An increasing number of people are not only interested in the issue, but are directly impacted by it. The conversation around mental health in entrepreneurship is starting to resonate on a global scale, with headlines everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to […]

It’s clear that founder mental health is a topic that needs more attention. An increasing number of people are not only interested in the issue, but are directly impacted by it. The conversation around mental health in entrepreneurship is starting to resonate on a global scale, with headlines everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to TechCrunch bringing this issue to light. Opening up this discussion is critical for reducing the stigma surrounding this topic, and it is imperative that we use this momentum to actively find solutions. 

We administered a survey to founders all over the world to learn about their stress levels, what is contributing to it, and what they’re doing – or not doing – to cope with these challenges. Here are the key takeaways from their responses: 

1. Mental health issues are rampant in the founder community. 94% of founders reported burnout, panic attacks, severe anxiety, depression, addiction, or loneliness. This is alarming, and these responses suggest that virtually no one is immune to the stress that comes with founding a company. Unfortunately, our findings mirror what is occurring on a larger societal scale. The World Economic Forum declared that there is a mental health crisis in entrepreneurship. What we’re experiencing here is nothing short of an epidemic. Leaders at the annual World Economic Forum discussed the issue of mental health and many prominent founders are coming forward to share their mental and emotional challenges on the path to success. By moving these conversations to a public forum, the topic of mental health in the startup community (and in general) can start to be de-stigmatized and properly addressed. 

2. Founders deprive themselves of many of the essential components of mental health and wellbeing. Many founders understand the importance of prioritizing self-care habits, yet they admit there’s room for improvement when it comes to implementing them in their daily life. A large portion of founders are still getting 6 hours or less of sleep each night and only 20% have made coaching, counseling, or therapy a priority. An area most founders (88%) are looking to improve is meditation, but in promising news, almost half report meditating at least once a week. 

3. Support systems are critical but require being vulnerable. The majority of founders reported having a close network they can count on in times of stress, yet, only half of them can be vulnerable with their teams, and that number drops to a mere 30% when it comes to investors and board members. While a lot of founders have support systems, what’s missing is the ability to be themselves and share fully. Showing up as your whole self is crucial for maintaining personal wellbeing and creating supportive business environments and relationships. Dr. Michael Freeman, a leading researcher on entrepreneur mental health at the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that maintaining connections with friends and family, and not being afraid to ask for help, is critical for staying afloat during stressful times. As Freeman shared with Inc., “If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going on an emotional rollercoaster ride… nobody is beyond the need for support.” Showing vulnerability as a leader is difficult, but it can also help create the deep and supportive connections that are necessary for mental health and long-term success. 

Founders experience high levels of stress but have difficulty integrating essential mental health and wellbeing habits into daily life. When dedicating so much time, energy, and emotion to building a company, it can be easy for founders to put their own needs on the backburner. But, it’s essential to realize that the health of a company is inextricably linked with the health of its leader.  

By talking openly about mental health in entrepreneurship, we can start to create a paradigm shift in the overall culture and values of the business world. Recognizing the importance of reducing stress, building networks of support, and prioritizing daily wellbeing practices allows us to take concrete steps toward improving the mental health of ourselves, and our teams. 

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