Entrepreneurship and Mental Health: Breaking The Silence
This is a bit of a new post for me. It’s also one of the most important. Quite recently, Instagram released a new campaign called #HereForYou. The goal of this campaign is to bring together stories from Instagram users around the world who struggle with mental illness. I love this campaign because it gives those of us who are affected by mental illness a space to share real, honest, stigma challenging stories amongst the barrage of those beautiful-sunset-live-authentic-unicorn-perfect-life posts.
Mental health is a very personal topic to me. While I’m not going to share my story here, I do want to talk about how our mental affects our lives as entrepreneurs – and how the entrepreneurial life affects our mental health.
As an entrepreneur, I help businesses tell better stories through simple and beautiful content. This means I spend a significant amount of time on social media developing content, managing comments and researching best practices.
However, this isn’t always the most positive thing.
I often find myself comparing my work to other social media managers, picking apart my own writing and expertise and ultimately believing the lie that I am not good enough. Throw in some interesting characters and life’s curveballs and things can get messy – quickly.
The nature of entrepreneurship is a turbulent experience. We’ve all been there: we are sitting on the mountain top one day and trudging through the valley the next day.
Silence around entrepreneurship and mental health
We are so good at talking about the mountain tops – the business developments, partnerships, successful markets. But we aren’t so good at talking about the valleys – the financial stress, loneliness, long hours. And often, we struggle to find the balance between all of this.
Think about your last conversation. It probably started something like this:
“How are you?”
“I’m good! Busy, but good. How are you?”
“Very busy, too. But good.”
There’s always a flurry of activity in our daily life as entrepreneurs. There is a never-end list of to-dos, tasks, and it’s very easy to get caught up in all of it. And when we do, we risk missing out on the beauty of life and we catapult towards burnout. I don’t know about you, but I find that when other people tell me I’m #killingit, I usually respond with an internal “yeah, #killingit is probably going to #killme.”
What we don't talk about is entrepreneurship and mental health.
Executive coach and author, Ali Worthington shares her struggles to find balance among her business, family, faith and herself in her book, Breaking Busy. In a society that tells us to be more, do more, know more, we can feel like we are – and will never be – enough. If you are living in this space where you feel like you are running around trying to keep up with all the demands of life, I highly suggest you read this book.
We undercut the concept of “busyness”. There’s still a narrative out there that promotes the “hustle attitude”, where you work, work, work, work until you get what you want.
But what we don’t talk about in the hustle is how this attitude negatively affects our health – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
READ MORE: Why Self-Care is Good for Business
Since 2009, workplace stress has more than doubled. (Source, 2014.) When you are starting up and running your business, the stressors increase. Not only do you have to think about doing excellent work, you have bills to pay, people to hire and IT issues to solve.
In this collaborative study by University of California and Stanford University, researchers found that mental health issues affect 72% of entrepreneurs compared to the study’s control. What’s more is that they found it is 30% more likely that entrepreneurs will suffer from lifetime depression.
READ MORE: Are Entrepreneurs Touched by Fire?
These stats are staggering and scary.
So why don’t we talk about it more?
Some of us are scared. Some of us believe that we will be rejected if we say that we are not okay.
The social stigma attached to mental health and the discrimination that comes with it can cause those who deal with it to stay silent.
I know this because I’ve been here – recently, in fact.
I never talked about it because I didn’t want to burden anyone. I didn’t want to bring anyone down. I didn’t want to be a stressor in someone else’s life. And that attitude of self-sacrifice to serve others was preventing me from truly serving the people around me and I ended up feeling isolated.
The truth is that we NEED to talk about it. We need to talk about it often and in-depth. Because we aren’t just dealing with a little sadness and stress here and there. We are dealing with entire lives.
And it doesn’t matter how mental illness appears. It could manifest in anxiety disorder, severe panic attacks, chronic depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder.
However, it manifests in your life, it’s important to know that you are not alone. You are human. You are allowed to express how you feel and be honest about your mental health.
Why we need to break this silence
Learning to live with mental illness is a struggle. But it isn’t shameful.
It starts with honesty. I didn’t realize I was experiencing mental health issues in various forms until I mustered enough encourage to talk to my best friend about it. It gets easier the more you talk about it. The more you talk about it, and the more honest you become, the more we can all make the world a better place for those of us who struggle with mental health on a daily basis.
And as entrepreneurs, it’s particularly vital that we are honest about our mental health. Not only is our mind and body at stake, but our business is at risk, too. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people (aka other entrepreneurs) can help you cope with mental health issues.
Let’s support each other
Here are a few strategies you can use to get connected and supported in your mental health journey:
- Find a support group. I love my #GirlGang. They are a group of girls who are running businesses, side hustles, blogs, community organizations, so they understand the stress and toll it takes on each of us. So find a group of people who are going through similar experiences such as motherhood, entrepreneurship, education, etc. This community becomes a huge support during those days that are not good.
- Set healthy boundaries. Create space for work and personal time. Schedule in time for self-care, even if it is a simple bubble bath or a walk.
- Learn when to say no. Taking on too much can lead to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Set boundaries and only say yes to what you truly want to do.
- Reach out to a psychologist, therapist or counselor. These people are specifically trained to help you deal with mental health issues.
- Be honest. If you are not okay, tell someone.
Mental health is no joke. If you are struggling, reach out. We are not meant to live life in isolation – we are meant to live in community, to lean on each other in the good and bad times.
NOTE: This post was created in collaboration with Breaking Free Foundation, local non-profit that supports victims of trauma find healing, hope and recovery. To learn more about Breaking Free Foundation, please visit www.breakingfreefoundation.ca.