Business Owner Mental Health: Why we Prioritize the Bottom Line Over Bottoming Out?

the depressed entrepreneur

I’ve been an Entrepreneur for 30 of the last 33 years of my working career. There are days that I love what I do and wouldn’t have it any other way, and there are days that I want to throw in the towel. There are simpler ways of earning a paycheck, but few jobs would give me the gratification I enjoy. Equally, few jobs can give me the level of frustration that I sometimes experience. Fortunately for me, the good days outweigh the bad days, most of the time. If you factor in that I suffer from bouts of depression, you probably wonder why anyone would want to put themselves through this. The thing is, I didn’t always suffer from depression. Several events have contributed to my depression, and running my own business was undoubtedly one factor.

The one thing about having been diagnosed with depression in 2008, you’re always trying to determine if this is a life sentence or a moment in time.  Admittedly, battling depression for more than the last decade gives you a different outlook as an entrepreneur.  The more you scour the internet for short-term and long-term solutions, the better you become equipped to accept that a one-time trip to the pharmacy won’t remedy this.  For many entrepreneurs, our chosen profession helps to contribute to our own mental illness.  Battling depression has become a silent crisis among entrepreneurs.

Causes of Entrepreneurial Depression

Many factors contribute to an entrepreneur’s depression.  The very nature of entrepreneurship entails a life of highs and lows.  The highs tend to be high, and the lows can be very low and sustained.  This can significantly contribute to one’s mental health as we continually ride the crest of the wave.  Our heart rate is always a little more elevated.  We teach ourselves to be a little more cautionary about good news, as there is always an expectation of getting hit by a rogue wave.  We try to re-centre ourselves, dry off and recalibrate our anticipation.

We hold a lot close to our chests.  We share our emotional state with tepidness.  We try not to alert those closest to us of our innermost thoughts.  At the base of this indifference could be fear or the realization that optimism is a fool’s game.  Our expectations have become callused from past disappointment.

I’m Great is the New I’m Fine

I’m always reticent when someone close to me asks me how I’m doing.  “I’m fine” is the appropriate response, but those who know that ‘I’m fine’ are unsafe.  They’ve learned upon hearing that response to dig deeper into my actual mental state.  ‘I’m great’ wards off the additional battery of inquiries.  I’m safe for the time being.

I’m fine means there is a deeper underlying story that I’ll reluctantly share if you pick up on these nuances.  Or better said, ‘I’m fine’ is like saying I don’t want to talk about it, but I will if you insist.  Vulnerability isn’t in our wheelhouse.

We all have the occasional bad day, but more than 60% of entrepreneurs have these occurrences at least once a week. (1) This is pretty scary when the backbone of Canada’s economy has regular symptoms of depression.  Covid-19 has done nothing but exasperate the problem and increase the severity of the situation.  If two-thirds of entrepreneurs have depressive symptoms, it’s been said that up to 30% of entrepreneurs suffer from depression.  The difference being depression sufferers is more sustained; however, those exhibiting depressive symptoms have greater vulnerability to eventually being diagnosed with depression.

Why Does Depression Hit Entrepreneurs So Hard?

Some reports indicate that entrepreneurs are 2-4 times more likely to suffer depression than average adults.  So what is it? 2-4 times is a huge delta.  Have entrepreneurs become masters of disguise in shielding their inner feelings?  To start, it stems from a myriad of issues; having constantly elevated stress levels, personal high expectations, financial pressures and juggling the tenuous work-life balance all factor into the equation.

The compounding factor is when entrepreneurs try to figure it out themselves, or worse still, never acknowledge that there’s an issue.  Whether we perceive this vulnerability as a weakness or we choose not to burden our friends and family, more times than not, we tend to ‘go it alone’ and try to figure it out for ourselves.  Entrepreneurs wear a fragile veneer because who wants to give funding or take a flyer on an unproven business with a depressed person at the helm? I didn’t say it was a sound argument, but those inner thoughts can seep into our minds if we allow them to.

To add insult to injury, entrepreneurs must always be ‘on’.  Whether we are the pitchman, bringer of ideas to life or the leader to which others follow, we are the personification of our enterprise.  Perceived weakness has no place in the fold of our entity.  One of the other challenges entrepreneurs face is our constant battle with brain fog.  Whether it hampers our productivity levels, creative genius, retention of information or ability to see clarity in a situation, more than 50% of entrepreneurs can feel crippled by its clutches.

In 2018. At the height of my suffering from depression, I couldn’t think my way out of a wet paper bag.  It’s not that I didn’t want to get things done; I just couldn’t, regardless of how hard I tried to focus.  It is not difficult to understand why battling brain fog amongst entrepreneurs is one thing we want to overcome most.

I have come a very long way over the past few years.  Thinking back to where I was two to three years ago and where I am today is night and day.  Although the perfect day’s attainment is almost impossible to realize, it becomes a relative achievement to where I’ve been previously.  Although my frame of mind, productivity levels and motivation are miles from where I started, I’m quick to acknowledge that an occasional setback or bad day is expected in the life of an entrepreneur.

Adversity is something that entrepreneurs need to be prepared for.  In life and business, we need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, this constant uncertainty can wreak havoc on our emotional state, causing mental angst, impacting our productivity levels, stress levels at work and home and causing us to lose our passion for our business.

Chris is a survivor.  Through the bankruptcy of his first business, a painful divorce and the death of his 14-year-old daughter, Maddie, he learned that life isn’t always fair, but we teach ourselves resiliency despite tragic events that we go through.

He has seen the impact that mental health can have on success within your business and your life and how the two are on a constant collision course.  When Chris became aware that Entrepreneurs struggled with their mental health at more than twice the average adults’ rate, he realized he wasn’t alone and made it his purpose to understand why and do something to help.

(1) Going it Alone: The mental health and well-being of Canada’s entrepreneurs CMH