Mark Stenberg and Max Jungreis
Nov. 3, 2020
Entrepreneurship is a high-risk, high-reward endeavor, with failure rates hovering around 50% at the five-year mark.
Still, the prospect of windfall returns and the allure of professional autonomy has convinced nearly 31 million Americans, or 16% of the US adult population, to pursue entrepreneurship.
The rollercoaster nature of entrepreneurship, with its mercurial highs and lows, can strain the mental health of founders and small-business owners. Aspiring founders also report that the nature of their work can feel isolating, as if no one can fully understand the pressures they are under.
This unpredictability, coupled with the sense that outsiders are unable to fully understand the challenges of the industry, has led entrepreneurship to develop a reputation as a haven for poor mental health.
A 2015 study conducted by the University of San Francisco found that 49% of entrepreneurs have a mental health condition. It also found that entrepreneurs were "significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants."
As a result, entrepreneurs face high levels of burnout and even suicide.
Fortunately, in recent years entrepreneurs have grown more outspoken about the mental health crisis in their industry. Founders and small business owners now speak candidly about their struggles separating their personal lives from their professional ones, and communities have cropped up to connect entrepreneurs with support.
Below is a working list of entrepreneurs who have spoken openly about their history with mental illness, including how they manage their mental health.
If you're struggling, call the SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Who they are: Cofounder and COO of mental health app Ginger.
What they've said: Founders often conceal "A feeling of like 'I shouldn't be here. I don't have the skills and capabilities. The gravity of the situation is so great that I might not make it.' I think that's a pretty consistent feeling for most founders."
How they manage their mental health: Singh gets together for a group discussion once a month with other CEOs to talk through whatever they're facing.
Who they are: Founder of Tesla and SpaceX.
What they've said: "The reality [about entrepreneurship] is great highs, terrible lows and unrelenting stress. Don't think people want to hear about the last two."
How they manage their mental health: Musk has said about managing his depression: "I'm sure there are better answers than what I do, which is just take the pain and make sure you really care about what you're doing."
Who they are: Investor, author, podcast host, and entrepreneur
What they've said: "The key is building fires where you can warm yourself as you wait for the tempest to pass. These fires — the routines, habits, relationships, and coping mechanisms you build — help you to look at the rain and see fertilizer instead of a flood."
How they manage their mental health: Making a "mutual non-self-hurt vow" with a friend; exercise; doing good for others.
Who they are: Founder and CEO of Second Time Founders, Inc.
What they've said: "When I started to share about my experience with close friends and supporters, I learned how many 20 something-year-olds and millennial peers from all backgrounds were sharing this similar struggle."
How they manage their mental health: Therapy; self-care; yoga; intentional focus on work-life balance.
Who they are: Author, entrepreneur, founder of TechStars, investor.
What they've said: "I do know that talking about it, even privately, has helped me address my depression, so I encourage anyone who is struggling with depression to make sure they at least have a few people in their lives who they can talk to openly about what is going on with them."
How they manage their mental health: More sleep; cutting out alcohol; reducing food consumption; spending more time alone; traveling.
Who they are: Founder of Reboot.IO, venture capitalist, professional coach.
What they've said:"The best way to overcome the inevitable loneliness of life at the top may be to connect and mindfully attend to the process that's already underway – the unconscious sharing that undergirds every relationship."
How they manage their mental health: Buddhism; boxing; meditation; journaling.
Who they are: Cofounder of Moz and SparkToro.
What they've said: "Depressed Rand magnifies the bad 10X and minimizes the good. He refuses to even acknowledge good news and, because he's a pretty smart guy, he can usually argue for why that good news is actually just temporary and will turn to shit any minute."
How they manage their mental health: Therapy; talking about mental health; having transparent, complex role models; sleeping eight hours a night; exercise.
Who they are: Founder of Shift, investor at TenOneTen, and host of "LA Venture" podcast.
What they've said: "For a while after, I felt a lot of shame about it — being depressed, being suicidal, having an eating disorder. But it got easier. I got way more open about it over time, because a lot of people struggle and I've found it's better to talk about it."
How they manage their mental health: Talking about her mental health; antidepressants; fixed eating and exercise routines; quit drinking alcohol and coffee; regular sleep.
Who they are: Founder of Akta and author of "A Practical Way to Get Rich ... and Die Trying."
What they've said: "What I'm not recommending — or advocating — is that we air our faults to everyone. But I am proposing to not feel the need to act like a superhero."
How they manage their mental health: Medical intervention and holistic medicine, including tai-chi, psychotherapy, and acupuncture; stepping away from work; unpacking his imposter syndrome; emulating role models who speak openly about mental health.
David Emanuel Sarabia
Who they are: Founder of UPrinting and eMobileCart, currently the founder and CEO of inRecovery.
What they've said: "Life in detox is like being forced into a vacuum. Your phone, your wallet, and your freedoms are stripped from you. It feels like a violation at first, then you realize how truly freeing it is. For some, it can be hell. For me personally, it was the best week of my adult life. For the first time, I had nothing to worry about."
How they manage their mental health: Limiting technology and social media use; creating a support network with structured check-ins; therapy; practicing sobriety.