With so much being done to encourage people to consider starting their own businesses, combined with an increase in legislation on workplace stress, there should be a great deal more done to heighten awareness of mental health for the entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are often people who do not shout for help and can be at the highest risk
It is a curious anomaly that the more stress is frowned upon in all other walks of life, the more entrepreneurs propound the marvels of it.
We hear about entrepreneurs who are excited by being close to burnout. Other entrepreneurs who talk with glee at waking in the middle of the night and obsessing over business problems or not having time for their families.
Those statements alone would be cause for major trouble in your workplace if applied to one of your staff.
It is true to say that most entrepreneurs thrive on stress – they are the adrenaline junkies of the business world. They actually love being stretched to the limit, they enjoy the obsession. It is a circle as the stress itself generates more over-reactive emotions and hyperactivity.
But for all that, the entrepreneur is at high risk from both the effects of stress on the one hand or the risk of burnout on the other.
Stress is typical of the obsessive business building of the entrepreneur but much as we all ignore it, the knock-on effects on the physical body are horrendous and, in some cases, terminal.
With burnout – rarer but by no means unheard of for the entrepreneur – the sufferer disengages, loses that focus and obsession and becomes disengaged with the business.
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The damage is emotional rather than physical but can lead to major mental health issues up to and including suicide.
Lack of control over your life is a huge contributor to burnout so increased government legislation, worldwide recession and troublesome staff are all obvious potential contributors. Lack of appreciation is another – after all, who ever thanks the boss?
In neither case do you see it coming. As with physical health, the better you look after yourself, as in exercise and sensible eating, the better your chances of avoiding them.
The biggest problem is that we are obsessive, so even when the signs finally start to dawn on us, we tend to ignore them and carry on regardless. Quite apart from anything else, we are by that time usually too far gone to come up with intelligent solutions to the problem.
Entrepreneurs tend to be strong people, many of whom have overcome huge obstacles to get where they are in life. But typically, it is these people who carry on regardless, who do not shout for help and perceive any sort of giving into problems as a weakness who can be at the highest risk.
There may be more awareness in other walks of life of mental illness but I believe we need to be extremely careful in the way we set out entrepreneurship as being aspirational in ensuring very full disclosure of the risks to mental health.
We also need more acceptability within society that it is “okay” for bosses to suffer from stress and burnout too. When all is said and done, it is, after all, us who have the biggest burdens of responsibility to carry.