By Rachel Wells ’25 Associate
To many, entrepreneurship is viewed as the key to gaining financial freedom, the epitome of career flexibility. The ability to set your own work hours, schedule, and be your own boss offers career appeal that most jobs cannot. While the startup world is an exciting and creative space, it can be equally as stressful. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. From high-energy and fast pace working environments to employees performing multiple functions, entrepreneurs face a lot of pressure. A 2015 study conducted by Dr. Michael Freeman at UC Berkeley found an alarming 72% of entrepreneurs reported having previous mental health disorders (MHD), compared to 42% matched comparison participants. This study involving 242 entrepreneurs and 93 comparable individuals highlights an aspect of the business world that is often overshadowed by tangible results. Why are entrepreneurs more prone to developing an MHD?
To answer this, we first need to define what constitutes an MHD. For simplicity, MHDs can be characterized by a “clinically significant disturbance” in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, or behavior, with upwards of 200 recognized to date. Statistically, 12% of the general population suffers from some type of MHD globally. Oftentimes, MHDs can develop due to genetics or various traumas. However, lifestyle and long-term stress can play a role in how likely an individual is to develop mental illness. Freeman’s study highlights the disparity among entrepreneurs and the general population. This raises the concern that entrepreneurs are more susceptible to developing MHDs, or if individuals with a history of these disorders have a higher likelihood of becoming business owners.
Much like college students, entrepreneurs risk experiencing burnout. Whether it’s due to loss of passion or an overwhelming amount of stress from unfulfilled seed capital rounds, work-life balance, or high-pressure accountability, it typically serves as a catalyst in the development of an MHD. With approximately 90% of startups failing, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs have increased risk of developing an MHD over the general public. Most invest a great deal of their own money to fuel their ideas, working longer hours and taking on many tasks simultaneously. When these startups fail, it can be gruesomely defeating. Take Rand Fishkin, a multi-founder and co-founder who spoke on his long-term battle with depression. “It’s almost like a badge of honor to show how busy you are … imagine having that personality type, that propensity to drive yourself, and then having investors say, ‘You better be hungry, otherwise I’m not going to fund you’. You take away sleep, and you’ve got a prescription for depression.” But, even the most successful entrepreneurs seem to really struggle. Kate Spade, fashion designer and founder of Kate Spade New York, braved a decades long battle before taking her own life in 2018. Her business at her time of death was just over $200 million. As the saying goes, money can’t buy you happiness, and mental health disorders certainly don’t discriminate.
I think being an entrepreneur is one of the hardest jobs a person can have. It requires impeccable time management, the ability to multitask, creativity, and strong leadership skills. You always have to be on your toes and constantly thinking about the next steps. Add too much on, and you can easily burnout. By toning it back, you might not achieve the goals you have. Despite the research, mental health and the multitude of disorders associated with it are still very much a taboo subject in the business world. As entrepreneurs, it’s important that while we put our best work forward, we remind each other to take care of ourselves, be aware of mental health risk, and most importantly, be kind to ourselves and each other.
Rachel is a sophomore from Bow, NH pursuing a degree in Business Administration with concentrations in Entrepreneurial Studies and Information Systems and Business Analytics. Outside of the Fund, she spends her time leading the Information Systems Management Association as President and working as a teaching assistant for both Paul College and COLA classes. She is looking forward to starting her first semester with the Fund, and is excited to learn more about the process of angel investing and build experience with her fellow peers.