Life as an entrepreneur is hard.
49 percent of entrepreneurs report having one or more mental health condition. This is 2.6 times higher than the general population. In fact, compared to the general population, entrepreneurs have 2 times the rate of depression, 3 times the rate of substance use, 6 times the rate of ADHD, and 11 times the rate of Bipolar Disorder. Freeman et. al collected and wrote about their findings in Small Business Economics: An Entrepreneurship Journal.
The debate between causation has been widely debated. (i.e., does being an entrepreneur lead to higher rates of mental health issues OR does having higher levels of mental health issues draw people into entrepreneurship?)
The safest answer is that this is probably a reciprocal relationship, rather than a linear one. So, instead of A causing B, it is more likely that A impacts B, which then impacts A… and on and on. This is often the case with many issues that are studied. The cause isn’t clear, but there is a definite connection between the two ideas.
Despite the fact that the relationship between mental health issues and entrepreneurship is clear, few people are talking about it.
Sure, some business magazines and editorials discuss concepts of depression and anxiety (especially within the startup community) but more frequently these issues stay in the dark. This causes high performance leaders, such as CEOs and founders, to feel shame on top of the depression, anxiety, trauma that they already experience.
This is a big deal.
It’s important that we talk about these issues. Shame thrives in the darkness. So, to address these issues I wanted to interview a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who is willing to open up about the struggles of this role. I wanted an honest conversation with these leaders.
To start, I decided to sit down with John Herbold, who is the CEO of Brushfire Interactive, and ask him several questions. I focused on 6 questions that might start an honest conversation and one that might be helpful to other CEOs or high performance leaders.
What are some of the emotional and mental struggles that a CEO faces?
How does the pressure of starting and leading a company impact your family and friends?
Since leaders often feel the pressure to hold it all together, often leading to loneliness, how do you stay authentically connected to your family and friends?
What is one of your biggest mistakes as a CEO?
What is one of your biggest successes as a CEO?
What keeps you going when things get difficult? In other words, what is your “why”?
What advice would you give to other CEOs?
John had some insightful answers to these, and was honest about what he faces.
(You can Click Here to watch the video from YouTube if you like.)
I hope this can be a first step to start having more honest conversations in the business community. I plan to do more of these talks and/or videos in the future.
What is hidden, can never be healed. As Maya Angelou states, “I did what I knew, but when I knew better I did better.” We have to talk about these difficult things if we are ever going to change them and provide support for this community.
Freeman, M.A., Staudenmaier, P.J., Zisser, M.R. et al. Small Bus Econ (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-018-0059-8