Our weekly ritual of the one-word go-around intended to compress our emotional state into a single word to tip our coworkers off to our overall well-being.
But how many times have we heard these words from a coworker and the rest of us have gone on our merry way?
How many times have you, your friends, or coworkers said simply, “I’m fine” when prodded for more information?
If not 100% of the time, way too frequently.
But “I’m fine” isn’t good enough. “I’m fine” in many cases means, “I have a lot of deeper issues going on that you’d never understand so by saying this you won’t ask me anymore.” Then we high five and see each other at lunch like nothing ever happened.
This is complete bullshit.
So, what’s going on?
It’s easy for people to accept that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, yet when the majority of society thinks of depression they have a standard set of symptoms in mind. We imagine an anxious, unkempt person. We think of sadness and isolation. Aggression possibly. Or maybe it’s someone showing up late for work, seemingly disconnected from coworkers. Missed deadlines. Maybe they think of the student with slipping grades or poor attendance.
What people don’t think of is their high-functioning, overachieving coworker who exudes confidence and performs at the highest level every single day. The coworker that has it all figured out. Never misses a deadline, nails every pitch and just seems in rhythm with work and life.
The truth is, 30% of all entrepreneurs suffer from clinical depression where the general population only suffers at a rate of 7%. Including Anxiety and ADHD, the percent of entrepreneurs effected becomes 49%.
To me, this makes sense. Founding, or operating any company at a high level is an extremely personal journey. In my experience, it becomes difficult to separate your individual identity from that of the business you’re trying to create.
This can be a powerful motivator but as business setbacks happen, they feel like personal setbacks. As this happens more frequently depression quickly sets in.
For me personally, it was an overwhelming feeling of where I was and where I expected to be. The larger this gap, the higher the stress and deeper the depression.
I say this from a position of a person who has statistically overachieved in every category you can measure against and has suffered for at least a decade with extreme bouts of depression and anxiety. I’ve done this completely under the radar. I’ve kept it from my family and coworkers and my work has never suffered while I’m in these cycles.
In fact, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider that my work improves when I’m depressed as my personal coping mechanism is isolating myself within my work. A trait shared by many entrepreneurs.
Distraction is an art form, after all.
I’ve founded at least a dozen companies of various size and opportunity, selling two of them. This experience has taken me on a rollercoaster of emotion between the highest levels of excitement to the deepest, darkest depression and isolation a person can feel.
But I chose to fight another day.
Unfortunately four of my friends have not. Four overachieving, statistically successful, entrepreneurial friends who seemed to have it all going on. It’s sad on many levels, but it’s sad to consider that their careers were so young and full of promise. They felt this wave of challenge overwhelming them and truly felt the world was ending and they were failures.
They were all so wrong. Yet, I get it. I was there. Suicide is an easy escape to consider. It becomes difficult to separate the depressive thoughts inside of your head from those of reality.
It’s easy to say to entrepreneurs, high level executives and even junior level employees that the odds will always be stacked against their success. Setbacks will outnumber successes. Most days will be stressful. Challenges will pile up. Things get really fucking hard. Simple enough, right?
Yet, genetically our brains don’t always have the ability to rationalize this thought process.
What can we do?
Want to know something crazy? Since 2010 suicide was been the leading cause of death for people 15-49 in the developed world. Higher than heart disease, AIDS and murder.
I’m here to say that if we don’t alter our perception of what depression looks like, and how it manifests itself among entrepreneurs and overachievers we will continue to lose people who slip under our built in “depression detectors.”
While operating my last company, I was at a point where I was battling with suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. I was saying everything I could to express these feelings to whoever I could and all I ever got back was, “It will get better” and a hug. Unfortunately, friends and family can’t possibly understand the kind of isolation and struggle an entrepreneurial person feels, therefor their advice becomes generic and useless. Trust me.
The other problem is, an entrepreneur fighting depression like I was and still do, can’t reach out to another entrepreneur in an ecosystem where everyone is supposed to be “crushing it” all the time. That’s the easiest way to look like you’re losing or you’re weak.
We, as a larger professional industry need to have this conversation with our friends and coworkers. With our competition and our mentors. We need to change the mentality around this conversation to one not of generic support, but of action. People struggling with depression should feel free to ask for help without fear of judgement. Without fear of looking weak to bosses and coworkers.
And they should get the help they deserve.
It’s going to take brave people with the courage and experience to build momentum around this subject. But we can’t continue to lose people at the rate we’re losing them today. Not only are we losing talented professionals who are major influencers in our industries, we’re losing friends, husbands, wives, dads and moms.
We’re losing these people because they don’t have an ecosystem that understands and supports the disease inside of their head. A disease impacting at least 3 out of 10 people, that has become the leading cause of death among the primary entrepreneurial age group.
We’re losing these people because they are scared to ask for help and when they ask for help they get a bullshit set of anecdotes.
Don’t be scared to ask for help. I don’t know how or if I can help, but resources are available. If you don’t know what to do or where to start, email me and we’ll figure it out. No matter how dark a situation looks, there’s always a way to find a positive outcome. Trust me.
Live to fight another day.