How To Improve Mental Health In Startup Businesses

We need to discuss the challenges that business founders and employees can face.

One fifth of American adults will experience some form of mental illness during any given year. For one in 25 Americans, that’s 11.2 million Americans, the illness will be severe enough to disrupt their daily lives and relationships. This is a high percentage, but Open Sourcing Mental Illness, a non-profit organization, suggests that it is even greater among those in the technology sector.

If we take a moment to consider it, it shouldn’t surprise us. Many tech workers work in startups that are unpredictable and often require long hours. We all know the “blues of the founders”. Many entrepreneurs and executives don’t realize the impact their business has on their mental and physical health.

You might think that progressive HR policies would solve the problem, and that there would be an open-minded startup culture. However, the stigma surrounding mental illness is still prevalent in many companies. It is still a topic that needs to be discussed at home and not at work.

While mental health conversations should be held in the office setting, it is important that we change our thinking and how we talk about our health.

Why not talk about mental health?

Mental health is now more visible than ever. These conversations are still difficult to have. Some people still view poor mental health as an individual weakness. It is not something that we discuss at work because we don’t want to share our weaknesses with our bosses and colleagues. The stigma around mental health extends beyond feeling or looking weak.

Many mental health conditions are not considered illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder etc.). They can be more subtle conditions such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. Your closest colleagues may not be able tell you that you are in trouble. Their reactions can range between disbelief and embarrassment. It is time to change the tone.

A practical approach: How to talk about mental illness

Top-down leadership is required to start a meaningful discussion about mental health. First, data clearly shows that mental illness does not discriminate between regular employees and managers. It can affect anyone, even those most unlikely of suspects. This includes our founders who claim to have mental illness at a rate up to 72 percent.

To advance the mental health program, it is crucial to respect the boundaries and balance between personal and work life. This starts at the top. An example of this is not expecting a reply to an email at 2 AM. Encourage team members to uninstall Slack while they are on vacation. Although it sounds easy, many companies find it difficult or impossible to disconnect from their employees.

We were taught to believe that Elon Musk believed that “no one could change the world with 20 hours per week.” However, we need to remember that compensation can have long-term detrimental effects on businesses. The poor health of employees is the worst thing for morale. Leaders must draw a line between unhealthy and committed behavior.

Activated is an example of how founders and CEOs can create and lead a community that is focused on health to encourage innovation. Leaders feel it is necessary to appear superhuman. This attracts investors and talent, and makes us feel better. Your vulnerability can actually be a strength, as it makes you more able to support team members in need. People who see you as “doing everything” and acting like you are born competent may think you won’t understand their problems or be able to help them. Leaders must inspire, but also have to be human.

Start the conversation with us

Startups have a problem with mental health. But the problem won’t go away. It is our responsibility as industry leaders to establish top-down cultures that address the crisis. We must also avoid contributing to it by creating toxic work cultures and old attitudes towards health. Only by starting the conversation, we can make sure that our companies are safe and healthy places to work. This will be a huge benefit for our long-term goals.

While the startup industry revolves around new technologies and innovations, it is not without its human creators. They deserve as much attention as our products.

Tristram Shandy