The Mental Cost of Small Business

Aristotle said that, “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness."

Is it just coincidence that the most brilliant minds are sometimes the ones that struggle the most? I don't think so at all.  There has been a lot of great research by psychologist Michael A. Freeman of the University of California on this very subject. 

People who are creatively wired are often more predisposed to struggling with mental illness at a higher rate. Freeman states that, "People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states."

And isn't that the truth? I am in all kinds of business Facebook groups and several masterminds and the topic of mental health for the small business owner is one that I have seen come up over and over...and over again. People struggle, people need help, but nobody knows where or how to broach the subject about the mental cost of owning your own business.

While I can't speak for everyone, I can speak from my own experience as a mental health therapist and a small business owner of 3+ years. I have walked beside many other business owners struggling with anxiety or other mental illnesses and I want to start this conversation as a community.

So what is mental illness? A lot of times you may hear the words “mental illness” thrown around, but it's not often defined clearly. Mental illness can refer to a range of psychological diagnoses that range from Anxiety and Depression to conditions like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder. Mental illnesses are like any other medical condition: serious and often life threatening, only you can't see them...and because you can't see them, there is a lot of stigma towards people who suffer from mental illness. 

The stigma is what causes people to live in isolation, thinking they are the only one struggling to get out of bed in the morning. The only one paralyzed by anxiety or plagued with huge mood swings. Thinking that nobody else could possibly be struggling with this kind of stuff.

Let’s clear up a few things: Mental illness is not something people ask for, sign up for or have control over getting. Mental illnesses are both highly genetic and can be triggered by certain life situations too...like owning your own business!

When it comes to mental health issues specifically for the small business owner, there are two stories that I hear most frequently: 1) People have struggled with mental illness for a long time and own/start a business out of the flexibility that it can bring, but continue to struggle to manage their condition. OR 2) People start a business and it creates an environment that can trigger anxiety and depression.

Owning a small business can be the biggest rollercoaster, with the highest highs and the lowest lows. As a business owner, you are your own boss. Your own bookkeeper. Own publicist. Own whatever else. Unless of course you hire people to join your team, but for the most part, everything falls back on you. That in and of itself can be a lot of pressure!

There is pressure to succeed. Pressure to provide financially. Isolation. Feelings of loneliness. Feelings of failure. Wanting to please others. Feeling like you're not enough. Those are things that all human beings experience, but when running a business those feelings can be exemplified. I have yet to meet one small business owner that doesn't feel those things every now and then...or even on a regular basis.

For anyone who feels like they are alone in the struggle as a small business owner, here are a few facts that I found really interesting:

-1 in 5 Americans is currently struggling with a mental illness

-depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses

-49% of entrepreneurs surveyed were dealing with at least one mental illness (such as ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression, or anxiety) and about one third of entrepreneurs struggle with 2 or more mental illnesses. (Compare this with 32% of the general population who deal with at least one mental illness)

So what can we do to change the way mental health is talked about in the small business community?

-TALK ABOUT IT! I want to start this conversation and would love any of you reading this to join me. It is so important to actually talk about the hard parts of your life, like the loss of a child or the grief and shame you feel for the parts of your business that have failed.. Share them with friends and even with people in the communities you're involved with

-Know yourself and be brave enough to admit when you need help. Work with a therapist or psychiatrist/doctor to manage your own struggles.

-Work to identify emotions and develop skills that enable you to see your value as a human being outside of your business (Don't worry-I'm gonna help you with some of that!)

Does that sound familiar to you at all?

Over the next few months, I am going to be diving into more details about how to cope with mental illness and stress as a small business owner and what it can look like to work from a place of mental health. If I could reach through the screen to share anything with you right now, it would be to let you know that you're not alone if you find yourself struggling. You aren't crazy. You aren't weird.  You are just an amazing, creative person whose brain may be wired a little differently...and that's a good thing, because it enables you to think outside the box and dream the biggest dreams!

Be sure to sign up for announcements for Mental Health for Creatives and join the FREE Facebook group! What other struggles are you currently battling with as you navigate your small business journey? I would love to help! Feel free to email me (rachel@racheltenny.com) with any questions you may have or topics you would like to see covered in future posts.