Depression is an insidious condition where entrepreneurs could develop due to the stress and pressure in running a business/startup. And despite the severity of this issue, it is a sensitive matter which many entrepreneurs rather not share due to many reasons like pride and a lack of understanding loved ones.
It is lonely at the top, as the saying goes, and it is exacerbated when you run a small tiny startup and handling many hats. Most responsibilities literally lie on you alone and you are mainly in-charge of the whole company.
Personal stress and suicides
When not treated, depression leads to a forming of negative emotions and when left untreated, brings about consequences, even to the point of suicide.
According to Khai Lee Ng, Managing Partner of 500 Startups, already 2 founders have committed suicide in the VC’s portfolio of companies. This is a worrying trend as he highlights the high levels of stress that entrepreneurs face when managing a startup. According to a Harvard Business School study, 65 percent of startup failures are due to personal stress.
To the uninitiated, isn’t stress a mere side issue? After all, startups are always killing it and gaining many successes? Surely having the adrenaline and energy help in keep one mentally happy. But in reality, that is actually far from the truth.
The many questions the brew the depression
The stress of a founder can be quite complex and the mind can go into disarray, to a point that one is unable to function. I was previously a serial entrepreneur and have faced countless questions that I ask myself on sleepless nights when running my businesses:
- How am I going to explain to the team that we failed to get investment and half of them has to go?
- How am I going to pay salaries end this month with no money?
- Why on earth did our sales plummet so badly?
- How are we going to explain to investors that we failed them?
- Why did I even start this business?
- How are we going to fight the new competitor who has more funds and talent?
- Why isn’t our clients paying us the money?
- How am I going to replace that key client we just lost?
- Who is going to take over the tech function now that my CTO has resigned?
- Why did my server go down? How on earth can my users use my app or platform?
- What did I do wrong that my co-founder wants to leave the startup?
- How am I going to recover from firing someone?
- How do I face this legal issue of a client suing me?
- Why on earth are other startups all succeeding in getting fund raising and I have not?
- I am getting married (or going to have a baby), how am I going to handle the finances when I don’t pay myself much as a founder?
- My other half / loved ones are against me running a startup. They want me to get a job and have financial stability. How am I going to face them now that I have failed? Will they mock me?
- My peers are all succeeding, getting fancy cars and houses and travelling all around the world. How am I going to keep up with them?
- I am gaining weight and losing my health. Is this worth a sacrifice?
- How am I going to face the world when I have failed?
These are questions that I am sure entrepreneurs themselves have asked in similar situations. In the workplace, when issues start to compound and pile up, it suddenly seems there are no answers to anything. You start to fade out, unable to work, get irritable or make a mountain out of a molehill with any trivial issue. Everything that you do just seems to fail and not work out.
On the personal front, you start to distance yourself from loved ones and friends, thinking that nobody understands your issue. You feel misunderstood. Anger builds up, confusion and thoughts of just ending it all is possible.
Five actions to stop depression now
Being an entrepreneur in the past with multiple failures, I understand the stress, the pain and the shame one feels. Failing each time doesn’t get any easier, but I found the importance of going through a series of actions so that I can move on in life.
I have been a mentor for ten years now and working with multiple entrepreneurs who have faced entrepreneurial related stress. Using techniques that I have learned as a trained church counsellor, I helped them apply five actions, and seen people stepped out in freedom from the stress and become positive people again.
So are you ready to take these steps? Read on.
1. Acknowledge depression and tell someone
When you start taking note of your character change, your negative attitude and find you are distancing yourself from everyone or somewhat similar, acknowledge the spirit of depression is on you and you have to take action on it.
Don’t think for one second you can handle it on your own. Pick up the phone and text someone, anyone whom you would trust. If you are still too embarrassed to share with someone too closed, then make an appointment with the doctor, or call your national helpline.
Many, especially men, who think they need to put on a strong front, just cannot admit the shame and guilt that they face. But hey, once you have told someone, you find this sudden sense of relief that you aren’t alone in it. And remember, when someone listens, they are not there to judge you.
2. Forgive and let go
Emotions are a funny thing. Imagine you have a tank and it is filled with negative emotions and thoughts, and it is 90% full. So if a little negative emotion comes in, you get easily triggered and cannot explain why a small matter affects you.
The only way is to get rid of those 90% of bottled up negative emotions. I usually ask my counselees to mention out every little thing, every person that has irate or sparked a negative emotion. And from there, forgive the persons who have caused the hurt.
Forgiveness is a funny thing. It is not to help the other party get forgiveness, it is help yourself. Do you know that the other party may sometimes be unaware that you are angry with him? So say it out, “I forgive XX for doing hurtful things to me” and find the release off your shoulders.
3. Admit the problems
Once emotions are dealt with, you can start to rationalize better. Recognize the issues on hand and begin to write down the problems.
I once had one entrepreneur who did not want to write down the problems, because he felt he will break down picturing the whole issue at a go. But by doing so, he suddenly found the issues are not as disastrous as he thought they were. In fact, it gave him clearer perception.
4. Bite the bullet and take action
Prioritize what needs to be done. Delay items which are considered lower in priority. If possible, delegated to someone else to manage that.
Facing the music is a horrible thing but it is part of the responsibility that comes being a founder. If you need to fire people or fail to achieve something, get out there and tell the truth to the team. You will find people respect you more for being open with them.
5. Find a support group of entrepreneurs
For your continued good mental health, it is always important to be in good liked-minded company. I encourage entrepreneurs to come together and form real friendships where only each can understand and feel the other’s issues. Joining meetup groups like Startup Grind, Tech in Asia City Chapters or any local entrepreneurial group are always useful places to build not only networks, but friendships.
Having a mental medical condition like depression should not be taken lightly. This is especially true for entrepreneurs. Always remember that you are never alone in an entrepreneurial journey. Build yourself up with mentors, peer entrepreneurs and loved ones who will support you and encourage you.
P.S. If you are based in Singapore and need someone to talk with, come find me. I am here to help.
This is the 21st article of the “Startup Advisory Clinic” series.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn.