How to help entrepreneurs with mental health challenges

Posted by UTS Hatchery

You’re walking a tightrope; up so high you can’t see the ground.

There’s nothing under you to catch you if you fall.

You’re isolated and alone.

There’s no way off that you can see, the stress is rising through your mind and body, your heart is beating fast, you’re fighting to keep control of your thoughts, but you can’t stop them.

You’re going to fail, you’re going to fall, you’re useless, you were born to fail, the best you can achieve is to be a lesson to others of what not to do with their life…

Depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges can feel like you’re carrying the world on your shoulders while being isolated. Your mind feels like it’s your own worst enemy, you feel so weak that you can’t speak to others, and even if you could speak to others, you don’t know if you could find the words to describe what’s happening.

Mental health among entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are especially susceptible to mental health challenges because of the high risk, high stress environment they find themselves in. Suddenly they are responsible for other people’s money, jobs and building a successful company, and there is a perception that you need to present an image of a strong, resilient leader. When things start to unravel (and they do!) you may feel that you can’t speak up for fear of being called weak.

In our latest podcast we challenge some of the stigmas associated with mental health among entrepreneurs, and find that depression in particular can actually be quite useful. We hope this starts a conversation about mental health in the startup space.

The following tips are applicable to everyone, whether you think you might be suffering from a mental health challenge or know someone who is.

Look out for signs

Depression and anxiety often don’t just come up out of nowhere, but the signs are easy to miss. Some signs of a mental health challenges include:

· Negative thoughts that come from nowhere
· A lack of motivation or drive
· Changes in your sleeping pattern and quality of sleep
· Feeling fear, anxiety or other negative feelings to a situation you’ve usually been comfortable in
· Drinking more alcohol/partaking in in the party lifestyle more often
· You start becoming the person that yells “I’M FINE” when someone asks you how you are

Annoyingly, these are hard to notice until life starts to fall apart around you. You didn’t even know you were digging yourself into a hole until you went to climb out of it.

Taking care of your mind — It’s your biggest investment

You can’t make decisions for yourself or your business if your mind isn’t in the right space. Just as you take time out to hit the gym, spend a bit of time “exercising” your mind. Some mental health hacks you can try are:

· Download a meditation app on your phone and spend some time each day focusing on your breathing. This helps to train the mind to clear itself.

· Keep your life and home organised. Taking time to make the bed in the morning, spending ten minutes to clean your desk; putting in effort to keep the life around you organised can help a chaotic mind to reorganise itself.

· Even if you feel alone, prove to yourself you’re not alone — be around friends and people close to you. You don’t need to talk about anything, just being around trusted people can help a lot.

· Heard of the saying that the funniest people have the blackest of black dogs? There’s a reason for that — when your mind is filled with negativity, it takes effort to find the laughter in life. Go out of your way to enjoy life, and find things that are funny. Giggle at the cute little puppy that looks so proud with his stick, pretend you’re Spiderman, or even put in your diary ‘Watch funny videos for 10 minutes at 3:00pm’

Helping as a friend

It can seem daunting to be a friend of someone with a mental health issue, but that isn’t the case. The simple things can help you to support a friend in need. Some things you can do for you friend include:

· A message saying hello, wishing them well or anything positive throughout the day to show they’re being thought of. It takes less than a minute to pull out your phone and send a message, and in that time, you can give someone a smile or give them some motivation.

· Listen to them without telling them what to do. Showing that you believe in them to make good choices and to get through the issue is more helpful than telling someone to do this or that.

· Show your trust and belief in them whenever you can.

· Sometimes, just being normal around them, getting on with the work or life can do more than sitting there focusing on the issue. Chat like usual, treat them as you would if they were in any other mood. Not all depressed or anxious people want attention or hugs — some want to have life normalised. And the best way to do that is to be as you normally would be with them.

These are just simple things that can guide you with caring for yourself with depression or anxiety. If you are suffering from mental health challenges, remember this is just a guide — seek help from healthcare professionals or speak to a counsellor for personalised help.

Remember as an entrepreneur you may have to see a few counsellors or psychologists to find one that actually understands the ins and outs of running a business. The entrepreneurs we spoke to for our podcast said that they had seen counsellors (and had family and friends) who couldn’t grasp why someone would start a business and create all this extra stress.

As Leanne Faulkner from Fortitude at Work told us, “you’ve got to kiss a lot of toads before you meet the handsome prince.” Don’t be afraid to shop around for a counsellor who understands you and your business.

More info also available at Heads Up — an initative by BeyondBlue about taking care of yourself at work.

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