Entrepreneurship and Mental Health: Building a company is brutal; the psychological price an entrepreneur has to pay

Depression, anxiety and mood disorders can easily undermine an entrepreneur’s efficiency and can harm the startup in multiple ways.


Taking a cue from a recent study which states that start-up entrepreneurs are highly vulnerable to depression, one begs the question why does the threat of mental stress is more bothersome for entrepreneurs in comparison to those engaged in various other professions. It is not surprising then that the threat of uncertainty around us, especially in the business sense has only spiralled upwards ever since a slowdown was reported in the market a year ago. 

Close on the heels of the economic slowdown, the pandemic has created an unprecedented uncertainty in the markets which has not only killed many entrepreneurial ideas but also the entrepreneurial prospects which has pushed many wanna-entrepreneurs into mental depression.

One can always think why entrepreneurs suffer? Mental health problems exist in every industry; it’s not only in the tech industry, but the statistics indicate that we have a particular problem. 

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Struggles of pandemic and nationwide lockdown led to depression, mental health and illness in most of the people.

How Mental Health Issues Can Create Startup Problems?

Most entrepreneurs are smart, driven and skilled people whose resume could almost certainly land them higher expected jobs but they still, being entrepreneurs, choose the gruelling, uncertain and more creative entrepreneur journey. 

However, due to coronavirus and job losses many people got into depression. Creativity, ingenuity, insight, brilliance, planning, analysis, and other executive functions are often the cognitive cornerstones of breakthrough value creation by entrepreneurs.

Depression, anxiety and mood disorders often actively work to undermine entrepreneur performance and they often contribute to burn out, co-founder conflict, toxic company culture, increased employee turnover, an inability to hire top talent , an inability to show up for important meetings and pitches and poor decision making in general. But failed start-ups fail for avoidable reasons like co-founder conflict . All of these experiences are exacerbated when entrepreneurs are in a time of high mental and emotional strain.

Prithvi Raj Chouhan, Founder of an Education Startup says, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation. I am a firm believer of this quote by GlennClose. A recent study showed that startup entrepreneurs are 2x more likely to suffer from depression & suicidal thoughts. The most creative & brilliant are the ones that are most troubled at times, and no MBA degree at any institution teaches you how to resolve &  work upon your mental health problems as a startup entrepreneur.”

Though national mental health statistics are not good, the same for entrepreneurs are even more terrifying. Experts say, unlike many of the challenges we face today, the general symptoms of mental health, depression and mental illness can be worked upon by individual attention.

Pandemic Escalated The Challenges

Life for those suffering from mental health problems has become tougher, says Gita who’s only 25 years old and lives in Delhi. She needs to take anti-depressants. Gita says: “My medicines are going to last another two days only and I have no idea what I will do after they are exhausted.”

Pharmacists don’t give medicines without a written doctor’s prescription and it’s very hard to get a written prescription because of the pandemic when most of the private clinics are shut down indefinitely. She even faced challenges in scheduling online appointments.

Struggles of pandemic and nationwide lockdown led to depression, mental health and illness in most of the people. They get sick stuck up at home without any work and that leads to  change in their behaviour and it can be seen in all age groups.

Therefore, an increase in isolation, loneliness and the uncertainty of the lockdown including looming threats of heavy pay cut in their salaries and jobless situation are only adding to the pressure.

Ways Entrepreneurs Can Ensure Mental Being: What Experts Say

Waris Masih, Founding Trustee of Vision India Public Charitable Trust and a Counsellor, states, “The times we are passing through are very critical as many young people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19. The downward spiral of the economy is leading to depression, stress and anxiety among young people or others.” He also said that there are a plethora of schemes and announcements by the government for financial loan/aid but it is very difficult to be eligible for these schemes, making things very difficult for young people in their initiative for start-ups. Staying focused and giving attention to eating proper meals and regular exercise and yoga definitely helps, he adds.

Award Winning Mental Health Doctor, Dr Anjali Nagpal who is MBBS, DPM, MD (psychiatry) ECFMG (USA), Consultant Psychiatrist at Max Healthcare and CMD & Founder of Serenity Clinics says that anybody feeling low because of financial loss or after losing a lucrative job during the Covid-19 crisis needs to understand that panicking or losing hope is not an option for them as this may make them take impulsive decisions. 

They should not isolate themselves. Reaching out to their colleagues and friends may give them the much needed lead that could be the game changer. It’s important to stick to a daily routine during this period. Exercising or a walk will also help them to get some positive energy.

They should avoid getting in the loop of recurrent negative thoughts. Meet friends or psychologists and voice these thoughts. Avoid the company of negative people. Having a flexible attitude and not being rigid to resolve the problem will be the right approach. They need to remember that tough times don’t last but tough people do! This too shall pass.

To get rid of this serious mental and depression problem Dr Anjali believes in a holistic approach in handling mental health problems through counselling, yoga, neurogenetic diet and lifestyle management.

According to the World Health Organisation, there were three psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists per million people in India- even as 75% of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorders.

It’s always better that each of us who participates in the start-up ecosystem contributes to the entrepreneur who just got into his new venture. This puts each of us in a position to positively impact this experience by acting. Investors should make sure that the entrepreneur of the start-up company they work with knows that they take mental health issues seriously because mental emotional and physical well-being are all deeply linked to one another. Just as mental health issues often lead to substance abuse, a lack of physical exercise or nutrition can also lead to depressive mood states and a lack of focus.

However, it’s best that startup or company entrepreneurs should take an intentional vacation away from work, tech and business and go along with their families or close friends just to relax and spend some quality time together which helps them to achieve good results in their ventures.

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Depression, anxiety and mood disorders often actively work to undermine entrepreneur performance and they often contribute to burn out, co-founder conflict, toxic company culture, increased employee turnover, an inability to hire top talent , an inability to show up for important meetings and pitches and poor decision making in general.

Recognize, Embrace and Support

Building an enterprise is inherently hard mentally, physically and emotionally but our ecosystem is a toxic one, with dozens of factors all contributing to make it even more so. We are quite literally killing ourselves and thereby sabotaging our long-term competitiveness. There are tangible actions that boil down to treating each other and ourselves as human beings. If we recognize and embrace our weaknesses and support one another in our imperfections, we will start seeing a healthier more sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Depression, chronic stress, anxiety, anger, pessimism, and dissatisfaction about one’s life are all associated with potentially harmful biological responses. Prolonged feelings of depression and anxiety can lead to irregular heart-rates and rhythm. Some of the affected have complained of stomach ache, ulcers and lack of interest in food.

During the pandemic, those who come to doctors with problems of the heart have to be closely examined. It is important to not only understand their physical lifestyle – too much sitting, alcohol intake, smoking and dangerous food habits – but also their psychological stress.

Dr K.K. Aggarwal, Senior Cardiologist states, “A look at psychological health, its well-being and mind-heart-body connection clearly show that mental health can positively or negatively impact health and (add to) risk factors for heart disease and stroke.”

Earlier, depression was a serious concern, but now other stressors have been added as the pandemic has induced a compromised state of coping-ability for many people.

Santosh Mehta
Santosh Mehta
Santosh is a business journalist with 20 years of experience. She writes on self improvement, business and health. Her stint includes The Statesman, Hindu Business Line, All India Radio and Australian TV Channel.

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