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mental health entrepreneurship

Per a recent Founder Reports survey, 88% of entrepreneurs struggle with at least one mental health issue. EIGHTY EIGHT PERCENT. We haven’t seen a majority that large since we all quietly agreed that getting arrested for throwing a milkshake at Nigel Farage is totally worth it. 

The details of that survey are intense, but, sadly, not unexpected. When 27% of entrepreneurs have a poor work life balance, is it any surprise that 34% experience burnout, 22% suffer from insomnia and sleep issues, and a heartbreaking 27% feel isolated or lonely?

The UK is full of small businesses - literally full of them. Of the 5.6m private businesses in the UK at the last count (2023), 5.51m of them had fewer than 50 employees. That’s 98%; 98% of privately-owned businesses in the UK have fewer than 50 employees. I’m massively extrapolating these figures here, but if 88% of the people who founded those businesses are struggling with a mental health issue, that’s 4.8m people - that’s about 7% of the entire adult population of the UK who feels the pain of building something new. 

But my word are they delivering financial results…

mental health entrepreneurship

Smaller businesses contribute £2.41 TRILLION to the UK economy, roughly 54% of the total turnover of the UK’s private sector. About 40% of that £2.41 trillion comes from companies with fewer than ten employees. 

You’d be forgiven for reading those figures and thinking - well, then, I guess being miserable is worth it. But is it, though? Despite what Capitalism would have us believe, our basic value as humans isn’t directly proportional to our economic output. We are people, we are not our productivity. 

And, sure, there are many non-financial benefits to entrepreneurship - increased personal growth, increased autonomy and independence, the intrinsic value of doing something good for society - but all of those rewards already exist and yet entrepreneurs, despite their economic output and these non-financial benefits, are still miserable. These various benefits exist, but they’re not mitigating the impact of the misery, they’re just sitting alongside it. 

So, what’s causing mental health problems in entrepreneurship?

I think it’s about how we perceive hard work. 

The idea that hard work is something to be aspired to above all else and regardless of the consequences has so many roots in modern society that it’s hard to trace back the exact moment that our ancestors stopped prioritising rest and energy-preservation and starting shifting their gazes towards toil.

It’s definitely partly Capitalism, but also probably partly to do with the Protestant work ethic born out of the Reformation, it’s definitely not helped by social media’s ability to so widely disseminate and emphatically perpetuate the myth that hard work is always rewarded by material accumulation (and that material accumulation itself is something to aspire to). 

Much as we created pre-Enlightenment myths for ourselves about the whims of omniscient beings to help us process suffering, I suspect we create the myth of over-work to help us process the fact that we’re all stuck in a system that takes so much from us whilst rewarding other people. 

But this isn’t an anti-Capitalist rant to inspire you down tools and stick it to the man. Sure, I’d love nothing more than for your life to be one endless post-economic milk and honey holiday, but those skyrocketing bills probably aren’t paying themselves quite yet. 

The question I’m addressing isn’t so much how to change the system (I’m sorry, but I can’t fix Capitalism, no matter how many spreadsheets I build), but how to exist and thrive in the system without it breaking you. 

What can be done to improve mental health in entrepreneurship?

If part of the root of this entrepreneurship mental health epidemic is all of the mixed up messages we see and emotions we have about hard work, here are 3 things you can start doing immediately to counteract that noise:

Get talking about it and get help

A lot of my coaching and consulting clients tell me that working with me is a bit like therapy and yes, I absolutely can and should sit and listen to their problems and build plans of attack to help find the right solutions, but that’s never a substitute for professional mental health help. 

I, like everyone else, am a deeply flawed human being, just trying to figure shit out and get by. I do whatever I can to do that in an empathetic and altruistic way, but I’m not a qualified mental health professional, nor are most other coaches and consultants, nor are most of the super inspiring business gurus you follow on LinkedIn. I’m really great at hearing what’s going wrong in your business and uncovering the reasons why and I can read a spreadsheet like it’s the Matrix, but I am not a substitute for professional mental health support. 

I’m only speaking from my own experience here, but mental health problems can be a bit like Rumplestiltskin. They sneak in in the darkest parts of the worst nights and take more than you have to give, but they also tend to tear themselves in two when their names are spoken. You’ve surely heard the phrase “a problem shared is a problem-halved” - use it. 

mental health entrepreneurship

Anyone feeling worried about being the only one who encounters difficulties should remember that 88% of entrepreneurs are dealing with mental health issues. The more we talk about these things, the more we can start to work together to find a way to make things better for all of us. 

So, I’ll start. I’m Milly and I’m dealing with CPTSD. It makes me anxious about new things (so, so helpful when you’re building a company from scratch and literally everything is new), it destroys my sleep through hyper-vigilance which, in turn, gives me awful migraines and steals hours of my productivity. It makes me second-guess myself and overthink things and I re-read everything until words are just blurs on a page. 

But CPTSD isn’t all of me and it isn’t better than me and it certainly doesn’t deserve to take what I’ve worked for. If you’re an entrepreneur struggling with mental health problems, I promise you you’re not alone. I’m not suggesting that you trauma-dump onto unsuspecting people, but there are support systems out there that take many different forms. 

Get a network of people who understand you

I’m going to repeat a stat from the intro: about a third of entrepreneurs feel isolated or lonely. Whether that’s from working long hours alone in the early stages of the company, or from being the sole owner of the most important decisions, or being the only one ultimately responsible for making payroll, entrepreneurship can be a really isolating time. 

The good news is, you might feel alone, but you aren’t actually alone. There are about 800,000 new companies started in the UK each year. 98% of UK companies are small companies. There’s a huge pool of people who are also going through entrepreneurial challenges and can understand the idiosyncratic struggles of the experience.

There are networks everywhere, for all kinds of types of entrepreneurs. Female founders’ groups, disabled founders’ groups, groups for young entrepreneurs, industry-specific groups - there are loads of them. I’m not linking any specific ones here because it’s important to find one that you actually connect with, rather than just signing up to a bunch of email lists and feeling even more overwhelmed in your inbox.

Get targeted, tactical help to share the load

When you’re first starting out with a business, everything falls to you. It’s your responsibility to figure out the mission of the business, to choose a name, to find the right tools and services to help you build the first ‘shop-fronts’ like your website and your social media pages. You’re responsible for marketing and sales and finance and making everything fit together. It’s no wonder that 50% of entrepreneurs suffer from anxiety - it’s all on you, of course you’re anxious about it. 

I don’t want to add more fuel to the fire, but I have to let you know that, if you’re trying to do everything yourself, you’re probably not doing all of it very well. It’s ok to outsource some things, particularly the bits you’re not that great at or that don’t bring you joy (or that do bring you stress and resentment) so you can focus on the places where you can add your unique value. 

mental health entrepreneurship

You don’t need to employ a ton of people to get help, there are about 7.4 million people freelancing in the UK - so about 1.3 freelancers for every small business - that’s a huge number of people who offer selected skills in small amounts to get you through difficult times or to help you get ahead. 

If, for example, one of the things that you’re struggling with in entrepreneurship is getting shit done - then this freelancer right here is ready to chat. Just book a free call with me using the link below. 

If you’re reading this and you’re an entrepreneur, did you actually know how hard it would be going into it or were you surprised by how tough the going got when the going got tough? 

Book a free call here:


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