Today’s post focuses on ‘startup founder depression’. The discussion begins with a brief understanding of depression, which is then followed by an understanding of startup founder depression. Then we look into the causes of startup founder depression. This is followed by a brief overview of the aftermath and lastly we take into account the ways in which startup founder depression can be dealt with.
Startup Founder Depression:
Although we have seen some successful entrepreneurs and startups, there have been many startup founders who have experienced debilitating anxiety and depression before they became successful, a phenomenon known as startup founder depression. Being a startup founder can be tough and it is not uncommon for the founders to be affected by startup founder depression as well as anxiety.
Here are a few symptoms of startup founder depression:
- High impression management
- High risk of failure
- Trying to fit into the mould of a founder
- Multiple roles
- Neglecting health
- Personality characteristics
Depression is a mood disorder that involves persistent sadness and a loss of interest in things that the person liked doing. It is different from the mood fluctuations that a person experiences as a part of their day to day routine.
Depression can be caused due to a variety of factors such as family history and genetic factors, trauma and abuse, life events, loss of a loved one, drug and alcohol abuse, relationship issues etc.
Symptoms of depression include irritability, sadness,anger, restlessness, pacing up and down, rumination, worrying, sleep disturbances, appetite disturbances, difficulty in concentrating and retaining information, fatigue and loss of energy, lack of sexual desire,unexplained weight loss or gain and feelings of worthlessness and guilt.
It is a condition that may last for certain days, months or even years.
What does startup founder depression look like?
Startup founders often create an appearance that they are confident about their venture and their company is growing, there are newer opportunities coming up and that they company would soon start making profits.
However, not many are aware of the dark side of the startup industry wherein, most of the founders suffer from startup founder depression. It can be understood as the depression in the context of startups.
They often experience a sense of void and emptiness. They may feel physically and emotionally drained because of the pressure at work and often question their decisions. They also struggle to make decisions for their organisation.
They may have sleepless nights and often feel that they do not have what it takes to an entrepreneur. These depressive symptoms then start affecting their day to day life and their social and occupational functioning.
In addition to that, they are forced to put up a brave face in front of their families, their employees and the startup community which adds on to the pressure. They often end up forming a depressive logic, which is formed after consecutive failures which makes them feel that everything around them is trying to ensure that they fail at their job and that people are not able to understand them.
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What can cause startup founder depression?
There can be a wide number of causes that lead to this form of depression:
- High impression management:
It is assumed that founders are not supposed to be vulnerable and are not supposed to show that their business is not working well or they are under debt. The startup industry often follows the tag ‘fake it till you make it’ which means that the founders are most likely to engage in creating a facade in front of others which gives others an impression that the startup is running smoothly and is earning profits. It makes people think that the founder has got everything under control when in reality, things are anything but in control for the founder. This pretentiousness can be a causal factor for depression.
- High risk of failure:
Running a business is a highly stressful job which can not only create financial turbulence but also an emotional turbulence. There is a high risk of failure when a person comes up with a startup. It has been seen that 3 out of 4 startups usually fail and upto 95% of the startups fall short of their initial claims.
- Trying to fit into the mould of a founder:
Having a startup requires a person to have certain inherent skills such as communication ability, extraversion, convincing powers, adaptability, rapid problem solving and decision making capacities. However, if a person, who wants to be an entrepreneur, does not have these qualities, but still tries to get into the startup industry, there are high chances that the person will experience discomfort and frustration as their personality does not match the requirements of the field, which can push them into startup founder depression.
- Multiple roles:
A startup usually starts with a very limited number of employees due to monetary constraints. This means that as an owner of the startup, the founder has to take up multiple roles and responsibilities, he or she also has to coordinate between the team and take important decisions. Taking on multiple roles is not only physically exhausting but also mentally draining for the person. Researchers suggest that startups can be traumatic in nature.
- Neglecting health:
As the founders give away all their time to their startup, they are most likely to neglect their health and are likely to have disrupted sleeping habits, may eat too much or too little, may not have their meals on time, they may not have time to exercise, may engage in incorrect exercises. They are likely to abuse their bodies which lowers their physical as well as emotional resilience as a result of which they are more likely to develop startup founder depression.
Startups require huge financial investments and in most cases, these startups run into debts. Most of the startups are likely to close down due to lack of funds and huge financial debts. These financial crises can be extremely stressful for the founders, more than the employees. They are not likely to be able to pay the salaries, take care of the overhead expenses, take care of their own expenses and in many cases have to mortgage their house and other assets. This can make them prone to startup founder depression.
- Personality characteristics:
Studies have found that most entrepreneurs have certain innate personality characteristics which make them an ideal candidate for startups as well as the stress, anxiety and depression as an aftermath of the enterprise.
It is seen that entrepreneurs are more likely to be energetic, creative and motivated in nature along with having strong emotional states. They are also likely to be more prone to mood swings. Most of these characteristics work in their favour for a startup, but at the same time, they are also likely to push the person into depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness,loss of motivation and suicidal thinking.
Many founders also tend to have a clinical obsession, making them prone to anxiety and depression. They are also likely to have a hypomanic temperament (a milder version of mania), which works in their favour and also can be detrimental to them. The unusual energy, drive, tolerance for risk is necessary in the startup industry, but can also be detrimental to them.
The aftermath of startup founder depression:
Because of the heavy losses the founders face along with a variety of other issues that they have to deal with in the process of setting up the company, they often develop a tendency to overreact to even minor inconveniences and problems at work. On one hand, it makes them resilient as they know the ways to deal with any kind of crisis, but on the other hand they may also develop PTSD like symptoms and the crisis may trigger their mental health issue.
Is it possible to deal with startup founder depression?
Yes. Startup founder depression can be dealt with relatively successfully. Although it is fairly common for an entrepreneur to experience this form of depression, certain measures, if taken, can help in dealing with it successfully.
- Make time for loved ones:
The startup and its work is definitely important, but one must also remember that social support can work wonders in helping the person deal with depression. Several businesspersons now understand that one must never let go of the human connections for the sake of a startup. Friends and family can be one of the most powerful weapons that can help tackle depression.
- Limit financial exposure:
Although startups involve financial risks, it is suggested that the founders must limit their tendency to take financial risks wherever necessary. This is because the startups are a business that involve a lot of blind spots, some of which may be unrecognizable despite best efforts. Such blindspots can lead to extreme levels of stress and depression. Therefore a limit should be set to the extent to which one is ready to take financial risks.
- Taking care of sleep and diet:
Regular exercise, healthy diet, proper timings for meals, adequate sleep, proper sleep hygiene is absolutely necessary to be able to deal with startup founder depression. Further it is also important to have an identity apart from the company’s identity. This is because self-worth is not equivalent to a company’s net worth. Developing hobbies, taking breaks, engaging in self-care is important to feel complete as a human.
- An ability to reframe failure:
Failures are a part of startups. But, how they are dealt with, makes all the difference. People who fall into despair and hopelessness after a loss are more likely to be depressed as compared to those who see failure as an opportunity to grow and learn from mistakes. Putting things in perspective and not exaggerating the failure can be helpful. Afterall, startups are all about trial and error.
- Be open about your feelings:
Being open and honest about how you feel at a given time about a situation predicts the ways in which it will be dealt with. If the person does not talk about one’s feelings, hides it and pretends everything to be normal, it would be more detrimental to the person. Being emotionally honest and not denying one’s feelings can be helpful.
Additionally one must not hesitate to seek a therapist if the situation gets severe.
Frequently Asked Questions:Startup Founder Depression
What is entrepreneur stress?
High workload and work intensity, as well as financial problems facing their business are top causes of stress for the entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur is stressful but rewarding.
What does it mean to be prone to depression?
Being prone to depression means that the stress caused by a death, major loss, or another life stressor can trigger an episode of depression in someone who already has the tendency towards this condition.
Can you inherit depression?
Depression is known to run in families, suggesting that genetic factors contribute to the risk of developing this disease.
What is Startup stress?
In the startup, raising capital is stressful and that leaves founders sometimes feeling indebted to the investors who financed their vision. Feeling the need to show their best side results in not being as transparent about all sides of the business as they should be. This can lead to financial as well as mental stress.
How do you deal with stress at startup?
One can be self-compassionate while having a startup as there are bound to be some amount of losses. Along with that getting enough rest, eating well and exercising can also help.
Today’s post focused on ‘startup founder depression’. The discussion began with a brief understanding of depression, which was then followed by an understanding of startup founder depression. Then we looked into the causes of startup founder depression. This was followed by a brief overview of the aftermath and lastly we took into account the ways in which startup founder depression can be dealt with.
I hope the blog post was successful in presenting the readers with an insight on startup founder depression. Please feel free to drop in your comments and queries below.
What we recommend for depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.