TL;DR

How: Accepting that failures, mistakes and problems are inevitable is the first step to feel better.

Why Entrepreneurs Are Susceptible to Major Depressive Disorder and How They Can Cope With It

Entrepreneurship is hard, so be kind to yourself.

depressed man in suit crying
Published:   |   Updated:   |   Posted in ,

Business owners were more likely to have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), hypertension, alcohol abuse as well as alcohol dependence problems.

“I have no time.”

“Get this done by tomorrow.”

“I have a to-do list that is never-ending.”

Familiar phrases, familiar words. This seems to be the common denominator for most of us as we leave for work each day and return home each night.

Many of us will explain our tiredness as a result of having a little sleep, being overworked and stressed out. As an employer, we may feel tired and stressed out by staff not pulling their weight, missing deadlines and having to fight fires. All these could slowly manifest into something deeper and more complex if not nipped in the bud.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, time is of the essence. With fast-paced lifestyles, hectic work schedules and a host of things to juggle, it’s a wonder how some people manage on a day to day basis. Are we truly managing or are we masking our problems?

Recent studies in Singapore seem to suggest cracks beneath the surface.

The first Singapore Mental Health Study (2010) showed that the highest percentage of individuals with mental health issues and physical health problems were amongst people in senior positions or top management. Business owners were more likely to have Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), hypertension, alcohol abuse as well as alcohol dependence problems. In a more recent study, it was found that lifetime and 12-month prevalence of mental disorders assessed was significantly higher than that of the first study with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and MDD having the highest 12-month prevalence rates in Singapore. These statistics indicate a disturbing trend for many business owners and entrepreneurs.

What is MDD and why do business owners face this problem?

It is almost as if vulnerability and admission of tiredness or problems are akin to being a failure – a concept that is hard to accept.

MDD is characterised by depressed mood with a profound feeling of hopelessness, sadness, emptiness and worthlessness. It is usually associated with loss of pleasure and interest in activities, sleep disturbances, appetite problems as well as poor functioning in daily life. One may also have suicidal thoughts and ideations which might lead to suicide attempts or actual suicide (IMH, 2018).

Considering that 9 out of 10 start-ups will fail and the high pressure in having to lead a business, it is no wonder that depression is common among business owners and entrepreneurs. Many business owners take great effort to cover up their feelings and emotions due to perceptions of needing to be strong, take the lead and to be dependable. It is almost as if vulnerability and admission of tiredness or problems are akin to being a failure – a concept that is hard to accept.

What can we do?

I like to think of this using an Acceptance and Commitment perspective.

1. Struggle less, accept more.

When we start accepting that there will be failures, mistakes and problems (all inevitable), we spend less time blaming ourselves and more time focusing on getting through the issues more effectively and efficiently.

When hit with overwhelming feelings of failure and stress, struggling through it just leads to a quicker downfall, just like being in quicksand.

The solution? Pause. Stop. Spread your weight out and move SLOWLY. When we start accepting that there will be failures, mistakes and problems (all inevitable), we spend less time blaming ourselves and more time focusing on getting through the issues more effectively and efficiently.

2. Care, connect and contribute to you, not just the business.

If you were to pause for a moment to consider a time in your life that was meaningful and purposeful; it is unlikely that work or the pressure you put on yourself to get things done comes to mind. It could possibly be a moment with a loved one, a simple walk on the beach or a quick drink with a friend.

Take a moment to increase the time to care, connect and contribute to yourself. Ask yourself “what do I need right now” rather than “what do I need to do for work right now”. This could help increase the 3Cs and remind you why you started this business and what really matters to you.

When facing problems or stressors, take time out for yourself. Use your 5 senses to bring yourself to the present moment.

3. Respond, not react.

Communication is key. Whether you are a business owner or an employee, everyone wants their opinions to be heard, not dismissed. When facing problems or stressors, take time out for yourself. Use your 5 senses to bring yourself to the present moment. Notice a few things you can see, hear, touch, taste or smell at that moment before responding to an issue. Bringing yourself to the present moment helps us to get out of our headspace, take a breath before providing an effective response rather than an impulsive reaction.

4. Commit to purposeful action

Complaining and gossiping about colleagues or employees can be very tempting at times, but pause to consider: Is this something you want to be seen doing? Is this a purposeful action that you might want to take? Does this help you become a better employer?

Think about the values you wish to showcase in this workplace. If it’s a sense of responsibility, what action could you commit to doing that showcases that today? If it is a sense of effectiveness, what could you do to indicate this? Even if bad feelings show up, could we commit to doing actions that make sense and create a purpose for us in the service of the values that we want to showcase today?

Seek help

Although the above tips may help, there would be times where depression hits hard and seeking professional help may be prudent. The Singapore Psychological Society has a list of registered psychologists under the Singapore Register of Psychologists (SRP) who provide therapy across both public and private settings and it is important that one seeks help from a properly registered professional.

Featured image by Tom Pumford on Unsplash


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I am a registered Clinical Psychologist with a keen interest in working with people to understand their history and patterns of behaviour and build paths towards value-driven lives. Out of the therapy space I am always up for a cup of coffee, exploring different cafes and have a food photography instagram account to remember my food escapades!
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