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The Entrepreneurial Bubble: Convincing Founders to Invest in Mental Health Management

photo of a group of four founders at a round table talking about mental health management and entrepreneur depression

The statistics on business founders and mental health issues have been known to be rather concerning. Bold Business reported on just how frequent founder depression can occur (see: Founder Depression: A Side Effect of the Entrepreneurial Bubble). Roughly half of all entrepreneurs will have some type of mental health issue during their lifetime. While mental health management is gaining some momentum, a bigger challenge exists among entrepreneurs. Even among companies that acknowledge the impact and frequency of entrepreneur depression, obstacles are often present. These barriers do not involve the provision of services themselves. Instead, the biggest hurdle relates to founders and business owners themselves.

In other words, the water is being provided, but getting them to drink it has been difficult. Exploring this phenomenon is thus a worthwhile endeavor if entrepreneur depression is to be better controlled.

Unique Mental Health Management for Unique Individuals

When we consider what it takes to be an entrepreneur, the pressures that are often experienced along the way become readily apparent. For one, the founders of companies are inherently risk-takers, which raises the stakes from the start. At the same time, entrepreneurs have incredibly high expectations of themselves and their ability to achieve. So, when things do not go as they have planned, the potential for a “let-down” is tremendous. This basic scenario that depicts so many founders accounts in part for the high risk of entrepreneur depression. Yet, that is only one piece of the complex puzzle with which we are dealing.

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On the flip side of this coin involves the ability to recognize when one needs help. Indeed, the personality traits of many entrepreneurs and the high-pressure environment increase the risk of mental health issues. But at that initial moment these issues emerge, it is critical that mental health management be pursued. Denial, embarrassment and even shame are common emotions associated with anyone with mental health problems. However, these are even more profound among entrepreneurs who inherently refuse to admit weakness. For this group, acknowledging personal weakness is the equivalent to failed commitment and perseverance. And this factor plays a significant role in why many founders avoid mental health management services.

Recognizing Entrepreneur Depression and Doing Something About It

Given the inherent resistance among founders to seek help, some venture capital companies are taking matters into their own hands. Specifically, several are implementing various mental health management programs to help those with entrepreneur depression or help prevent its occurrence. By committing resources in this way, these companies can aid in minimizing, if not eliminate, the negative effects of the said condition. At the same time, such mental health management services raise awareness about how common entrepreneur depression actually is. With this in mind, we share the following examples of these types of venture capital company programs.

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  • Builder Venture Capital – Founder and General Partner Jim Kim pursued an in-house therapist to assist with mental health management. In an effort to promote participation, the program puts stock in anonymity, which has been a key feature that reduces many barriers related to stigma. Some success has been realized with demand steadily on the rise.
  • Starting Line – This venture capital firm operates out of Chicago, and its founder, Ezra Galston, launched it. As part of the firm’s commitment to mental health management, subsidies are allocated toward founders’ well-being. Particularly, resources are offered for forced introspection and personal advancement. In this way, conditions like entrepreneur depression can be reduced.
  • Felicis Ventures – This venture capital firm has adopted founder development services as part of its organizational practices. Partner Dasha Maggio helped launch a “1 Percent Program”, where 1 percent of the money funded supports mental health management. This allotted fund is to be used to address issues like entrepreneur depression and the overall stress of starting a business.

Keeping Momentum in Mental Health Management

Each of these programs is innovative and timely in terms of offering mental health management services to founders. Yet, concurrent with this fact, they remain somewhat limited in both scope and outreach. As noted, getting entrepreneurs to take advantage of these services is difficult. In addition to a busy schedule and a lack of awareness, entrepreneurs and founders recognize the notable social stigma associated with mental health disorders. And if you’re an entrepreneur trying to make a big splash, the last thing you need is being labeled as deficient in some way.

In the end, raising awareness about entrepreneur depression and similar conditions is essential. Likewise, venture capital firms, as well as other companies supporting founders must help. The programs in mental health management cited here are certainly to be commended in their efforts. Still, more can and should be done in this regard. By providing entrepreneurs the tools they need, companies can help them—thus enabling them to more likely succeed along the way. And in the long run, that is beneficial not only to them but also to their businesses and society as a whole.

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