In these turbulent times, business leaders are increasingly offering their teams mental health support. But do the entrepreneurs need help themselves? The answers may surprise you.
Mental health figures show that 1 in 6 people across the population now experiences a mental health problem. More and more companies are offering help and support to their teams to combat this. The business owners are themselves, under immense stress merely fighting for survival, often as isolated as their workforce, trying to work at home, and feeling life is outside their control. They are coping with the current times’ immense challenges, including trying to plan, which uncertainty makes virtually impossible. When the leaders care for everyone else, who cares for them, or do they not need it.
Common reasons for starting up our businesses include escaping jobs that make us stressed or to take more control over our lives. It would appear they don’t always find what they seek. Dennis Relogo-Howell, the founder of PsycNet, tells me that ‘research shows that many founders and owners of startup businesses can suffer from stress and depression.. Dennis cites research from 2006. This study compared the mental health of people in employment, those self-employed, and SME owners, showing a correlation between autonomy and good mental health. The self-employed group found the independence and freedom from the pressure of others they sought and benefited from it. However, the mental health benefits for the small business owner were offset by stress and anxiety. Running your own business can take its toll, explains Dennis, especially in this pandemic-challenged time. Perhaps entrepreneurs are programmed to be strong and cope with it.
Olivia James is a Harley Street therapist and coach who often speaks on case studies and trends in entrepreneurs’ mental health. She also works with an accelerator as a performance coach. Her work studies reveal a very different picture. Olivia “finds high levels of depression,” which correlate with this report, from a sample study by Michael A Freeman of the University of California. The research also shows high levels of mental health issues in entrepreneurs. A high 72% of the entrepreneurs had mental health differences directly or indirectly, 49% had a personal mental health history, and 30% reported more depression. Olivia also finds self-efficacy, believing that we can achieve goals and pre-set performance as a commonality. People with self-efficacy tend to be more persistent in reaching their goals and rebound easier after failure, and they keep stress levels low by staying in control. However, self-efficacy is not the same as self-esteem, which we form from childhood experiences. The most surprising part of Olivia’s studies is that she finds that most entrepreneurs have experienced early childhood trauma in the form of emotional and or physical hardship. While this makes them extremely self-reliant, they have deep wounds. They also find it difficult to ask for help when their mental health starts to impact their performance and wellbeing.”. Both specialists’ research shows that entrepreneurs are even more at risk of mental health issues than their team members.
Another expert whose statistics on entrepreneurs and mental health issues also show that entrepreneurs have significantly more mental health issues, including ADD and depression, is R Michael Anderson. Michael is the author of ” Leading in the Next Normal: A Guide to Building an Engaged, Resilient and Agile Virtual Workforce.” His research carried out at the end of 2020 found that the emotional and mental health of entrepreneurs with businesses over $1m revenue is 80% worse post-pandemic. He goes on to explain that not only is there a profound change to cope with, but the business owners too miss the buzz of the office and feel cooped up at home. They have the additional strain also that “despite having private battles to find funding, or perhaps to lay-offs, they have to appear confident to their team continually. That duality will also add pressure.
These different studies suggest that far from being the strong leaders that entrepreneurs appear on the surface, they are likely to have or be highly susceptible to mental health problems, even pre-pandemic. Now they are under considerably more stress, much of it outside their control, and control is what they naturally thrive on. It is, of course, right to support teams. However, to keep those teams in jobs and for businesses to survive and recover, we need to offer more support and understanding of our valuable but very vulnerable entrepreneurs.