Making sure that that the mental health of founders is a priority is an important role that everyone can play in our community.

By Melody Wilding

Startup life, while rewarding, can be stressful. Founders cope with great amounts of rejection and uncertainty on a daily basis. This pressure can take a toll on a founders’ well-being.

One recent survey found that nearly a quarter of founders became physically unwell as a result of work-related stress. Entrepreneurs are also significantly more likely to report a history of depression, ADHD and substance abuse.

Although mental illness is on the rise among entrepreneurs, awareness for mental health issues is increasing in the start-up community as well. Many founders are publicly talking about their struggles with anxiety, depression and bi-polar disorder to end stigma and encourage others to seek help.

Investors can also take an active role in supporting founder well-being. Some venture capital firms have even begun paying for therapy services for founders — all in the name of creating high-performing companies. Emotionally fit founders are more productive, efficient and make better leaders.

Ready to do your part? Here is how you can support the mental health of entrepreneurs and send a positive message in the Victorian startup community overall.

1. Know the signs.

It can be hard to tell the difference between stress and something more serious, especially when you are accustomed to operating in competitive environments. Symptoms vary, but common signs of a mental health problems are:

  • Physical changes such as weight gain, lack of sleep or lethargy.
  • Emotional changes like excessive fear, anger and drastic mood shifts.
  • Cognitive changes, including brain fog, distorted thoughts or seeing things that are not there.
  • Social withdrawal or apathy towards previously enjoyable activities.

When a person’s symptoms persist for two weeks or longer, it could be a sign of a mental health condition and should not be ignored.

2. Create psychologically safe environments.

Entrepreneurs may be ashamed to speak up about their mental health issues, worried they will be judged as weak or incapable. To combat this stigma, Google pioneered the “psychologically safe” workplaces approach. It aims to help people feel secure talking openly about what is “messy or sad”, turning vulnerability into strength.

You can create psychological safety by asking entrepreneurs about their hopes and fears. Provide mentorship to guide them through setbacks, but be sure to listen before jumping in with advice. Be transparent if you have a real concern about their health or the business.

Since startup life does not come with a pause button, encourage entrepreneurs to set aside time for rest. Many founders find success taking retreats where they have space to reflect. Then they can create company strategy with a clear mind.

3. Be aware of resources available.

If you suspect a founder you work with is struggling with their mental health, urge them to reach out for help. A doctor, psychiatrist or therapist can guide them on the best available treatment options.

There are also many free resources available to serve founders and those in the Victorian startup scene:

Entrepreneurship can be lonely and isolating, which is why community is a critical component of mental health support. Happy founders are much more likely to be successful founders. When likeminded individuals in the start-up world connect, everyone thrives.

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