By Srini Pillay
Mental health is a leading cause of disability in the workplace, yet 71% of U.S. adults will not contact a mental health professional. In fact, people loathe talking about mental health in the workplace, and the C-suite in businesses of all sizes is no exception.
One key reason people do not talk about their mental health is the stigma associated with it. They likely fear that they will be judged and socially discriminated against. In fact, the pressure for them to succeed is huge, and the stakes are often so high that 72% of entrepreneurs report mental health challenges, commonly referred to as “founder’s blues.” For these founders, special risks include losing their funding if they’re judged.
People, unfortunately, have many misconceptions about being judged. For instance, CEOs may feel ashamed they have mental health challenges, but if nearly three-quarters of entrepreneurs report mental health challenges, they are certainly not alone. Also, depressed people often feel like they are odd. Yet the World Health Organization predicts that depression will be ranked as the second largest cause of burden of disease by 2020. One in six people will have depression at some point in their lifetimes, and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses.
Be aware of your feelings
In 2015, psychology professor Michael Freeman researched mental health conditions among entrepreneurs. He found that 49% of entrepreneurs reported struggling with at least one mental health condition, and depression, the number one reported condition, was present in 30% of participants—more than four times the rate of the general U.S. population.
It would help if small business owners and C-suite executives could self-identify their depression or anxiety. Moodiness and being on edge might be part and parcel of the day in the life of an entrepreneur, but when depression and anxiety start to disrupt your social and work lives, it’s time to start paying attention.
Typically, depression is accompanied by trouble sleeping, poor diet, and lower energy, and you may also find you no longer can concentrate on your work and the work itself feels far less interesting than it used to. Often, entrepreneurs feel guilty about this. And in some cases, they might be slowed down, keyed up, or on edge and, in the worst cases, suicidal. They are all signs of a clinical depression.
Anxiety can also present in a variety of forms. You might notice panic attacks that appear out of the blue, feel excessively worried, or feel anxious in social situations. Each of these types of anxiety connotes a specific type of anxiety disorder and should be attended to. These symptoms are often accompanied by a fear of being able to escape when in crowds, anger, body tension, or a fear of being embarrassed in front of a group.
Although there are no signs of depression or anxiety that are unique to business owners, the stressors that precipitate these syndromes might be situation-specific. Often, the very strengths that make entrepreneurs unique, such as their risk-taking ability, creativity, ability to manage stress, and ability to stand out from a crowd, lead to stressors such as uncertainty, inability to stay in control, burnout, and loneliness.
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For health and happiness
If you are wondering when you should take action, you should do so the first time you register that something out of the ordinary is happening. You may be so consumed by work that you think that poor sleep or trouble concentrating is par for the course. But if you seek help early, you may be able to prevent severe depression or anxiety.
The first person to talk to is you primary care physician. Depression and anxiety could signify a medical illness. For instance, depression might be a presenting sign of an underactive thyroid gland, or it might even signify heart disease. Similarly, anxiety might indicate an abnormal heart rhythm, or it might be due to a tumor of the adrenal gland.
Once medical issues have been ruled out, you may want to consider medication or psychotherapy as a treatment. There are many effective medications and psychotherapies for depression and anxiety. A psychiatrist or registered nurse practitioner can prescribe medication, and psychologists and social workers can provide psychotherapy, too.
Apart from formal mental health treatment, you can also make lifestyle changes to help your anxiety and depression. For instance, physical exercise can be helpful for anxiety and depression. Also build breaks into your days to manage your energy more effectively and to strategically unfocus, too. Contrary to what you may think, it is better not to isolate and jump into your pajamas when you get home. Natural light can be helpful for dealing with depression, and at work, moving a desk toward light might help, too.
Emotions are contagious
If you think you need to communicate you condition to other members of your team, you don’t need to describe your exact condition, but you can say you have been diagnosed with a condition that might affect your working patterns and the duration is not known. When a leader takes care of his or her own depression and anxiety, he or she is also taking care of the mental health of the company as a whole. Emotions are contagious, and unaddressed anxiety and depression can eventually affect the entire company.
Depression and anxiety also have significant financial costs as a result of absenteeism and presenteeism. That’s why addressing this issue is so important not only for a small business owner’s personal well-being, but also for the emotional culture and financial growth of the company.
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