Mental Health for Entrepreneurs

On 11 August at 10:30 am, I ‘ll deliver a free mini-workshop: Mental Health for Entrepreneurs.

This topic hasn ‘t received much attention, despite the fact that its two constituent parts mental health and entrepreneurship certainly have.

The Blurb

A quarter of small business owners fall mentally ill due to burnout. Half of all entrepreneurs deal with at least one mental illness.

This workshop will explain why and examine practical strategies to ease and energise the business brain.

The first of these stats was covered in a Guardian article towards the end of last year, with the headline that business owners struggle to ease work-life imbalance. This is hardly breaking news! But the article did point to some serious research conducted in the same year by Simply Business which showed, among other things, that a quarter of the business owners surveyed have fallen ill due to stress and overwork.

Part of the problem rests with certain aspects of entrepreneurial culture, especially the ‘sleep faster’ startup culture, the pressure to succeed, and the notion that business failure is equivalent to personal failure. This often leads to self-worth issues, anxiety, and devastating depression. So there is plenty of evidence to suggest a connection between entrepreneurship and mental health conditions, and even that entrepreneurship itself can become addictive!

As well as taking a look at some of these statistics and symptoms, my workshop will explore what lies behind them, which is, an entrepreneurial mindset that brings with it great dangers as well as advantages. The main thrust of my workshop will be to suggest ways to transform the dark work-ethic of entrepreneurship into a play-ethic that protects mental health and promotes business success at the same time.

Why Am I Talking About Mental Health for Entrepreneurs?

My qualifications for speaking on this topic are professional and personal. I ‘ve lead courses in Positive Psychology at local universities and taught young people in our schools as a trainer for Aware. I ‘ve started and run my own business for almost a decade. I’ve had a long interest in the relationship between mental health and creativity. And I ‘ve experienced debilitating mental ill health first hand.

Venue and Booking

The location will be The Foundry, a coworking space established by East Belfast Enterprise, built with start-ups, entrepreneurs and small businesses in mind.

The session will last for 1.5 hours, including introductions and Q&A.

To book your place, contact Patrick at East Belfast Enterprise on 028 9094 2010.

This workshop will enable entrepreneurs and business owners to start a conversation about their mental health. I look forward to meeting you there.

Further Reading

I ‘m glad that research into this field is rising, with PhD opportunities now available for study into Understanding and Enhancing the Health and Wellbeing of Entrepreneurs .

Also, a number of websites and projects have recently arisen that are dedicated to mental health for entrepreneurs. Here a selection of them.

  • Business in Mind is a workplace mental health promotion program designed for small to medium enterprise owner/managers.
  • Entrepreneur Depression is a website with stories, self-care exercises and resources designed to help entrepreneur with depression.
  • The purpose of The Mindset Project is to get more entrepreneurial in supporting founder wellness.

Depression: Snog, Marry or Avoid?

So before this week I thought there were two end-points when tacking depression. You could cure and defeat it ( ‘avoid ‘). Or admit that it would be with you always but try to set boundaries to it and manage it on a daily basis ( ‘marry ‘).

Now I think there might be a third option. You can embrace it and use it to your advantage ( ‘snog ‘).

I know that there have been books out there for a while now that have talked about ‘the depression advantage ‘ but I remained mildly cynical, mostly because of the pain I experience in my own depression, partly due to the unscientific nature of the arguments used to justify such an outlook.

Is depression a mental state that flows from personality?

A few insights have conspired to open my mind a little. The first is a growing sense that depression is a mental state that flows from my personality rather than environment or lifestyle. If this is so, not only would it be wrong to try and cure it, it would lack strategic value. My philosophy is that you use what you have to your advantage rather than waste time regretting it.

Are depressives wiser?

Also, I read an article about Winston Churchill which argued that his depressive moods where a reason why he was able to see the dangers of Hitler ‘s Germany more clearly than any other politician of his time. I have since learned that there is a perspective on depression called ‘depressive realism ‘ that argues this very point. It seems that depressives may be in the words of one academic article ‘sadder but wiser ‘.

BTW please don ‘t watch the TV show that inspired the title of this blog. It will really depress you! 😉

Image credit: dm-set.

What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 1)

One way to gain insight into the nature of something is to examine its opposite. I was struck recently by reading the words of different people who claimed that the opposite of fear, for example, is not courage, but love. Instead of forever debating an exact definition of depression, one way forward might be to imagine its opposite and then work towards achieving that opposite state in depressed people.

So what is the opposite of depression? I present you with three candidates.

Depression is a form of mental ill health. The opposite of ill health is, well, health. This is true but it doesn ‘t take us very far. There are many varieties of mental illness of which depression is one. Mental health is a general term; depression is a specific. Also, someone can lack depression or other forms of mental illness and yet we could not classify them as mentally healthy. Health is a positive appraisal. It shouldn ‘t merely mean that an illness is lacking.

Depression is a state of low mood, whatever else is may be. Therefore, the opposite of depression is a state of high mood. The clinical name for this elevates state is mania, which is mostly associated with bipolar disorder. There is a type of mania called hypomania that is a functioning disorder in which people feel highly energised, confident and assertive. However, as it is a disorder, it may lead to risk-taking behaviours and progress into full-blown bipolar. It is not a healthy alternative to depression.

I wish to suggest a third alternative that is wholly positive and within our power. It struck me after rethinking a well-known quotation from Brian Sutton-Smith. The opposite of play is not work, its depression. The application of this quote is usually directed towards the world of work: play and work are not dichotomies, and there should be play element in the workplace. But could the quote ‘s focus not equally be the sphere of depression?

I suggest that the true opposite of depression is play. I’ll unpack this radical idea a bit more in my next blog.

What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 2)

In What is the Opposite of Depression? (Part 1) I suggested that the true opposite of depression is play.

Play, like depression, is essentially a mood or mental state rather than a set of behaviours. Scholars have called it a lusory attitude. That simply means the psychological attitude a players has when they entre into a game. “To adopt a lusory attitude is to accept the arbitrary rules of a game in order to facilitate the resulting experience of play.”

The development of a lusory attitude strongly suggests that depression can be cured. Many treatments today aim merely at management of depression rather than its cure. Depression is kept under control by drugs or wrestled unto temproary submission by therapy. Neither of them end it forever.

Play provides a way to achieve this positive mental state, namely, in the activity of play itself. Play as an activity takes many forms, such as games, humour and joyfulness. Each of these has a variety of forms. Depressed people can with help experiment to find those play forms that suit them best and that prove most effective against depression.

Although achieving a play mindset is the goal, engaging in different types and levels of play activity is the means of cure. This is healthier, cheaper and more fun than medication or talking cures.

Developing a lusory attitude in depressive people provides a positive, alternative mindset to their current state. Its aim is not to take away the depression and leave them with blank state to which the illness can easily return. Play provides a positive alternative with which to replace depression.

How this play mindset might be achieved is still open to discussion. There are many different types of play to suit different personality types and situations. The goal is not escape from the harsh realities of life but the construction of an attitude that allows for a healthy engagement with them. Play gives people the opportunity design their experience and dispense their energy in positive ways. Depressive people could be encouraged to experience play, to apply play and to live a playful life.

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training

Today, as part of the preparation for a new training contract, I attended ASIST training at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre in Bangor. What is ASIST? It is:

A course which teaches people to recognise suicidal thoughts and gives them the confidence and the skills to intervene

We started the morning looking at our attitudes to suicide, something that is often taboo in our society and something that no-one wants to address, for fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of tipping someone over the edge, or fear of offending someone by asking Continue reading “Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training”

Mental Power, Mental Health

Two years ago I wrote a blog called He’s Nuts! No, He’s A Genius! about how creative minds mimic certain mental illnesses like schizophrenia. I think you might be interested to know that more research has been forthcoming on this tantalising topic. Specifically, a new large scale study has revealed a definite link between creativity and mental illness. Medical News Today puts it like this.

“Individuals who work in creative fields are diagnosed and treated with a mental illness more frequently than the general public, showing an important link between writing and schizophrenia… Analysis provided evidence for the researchers’ prior report, that bipolar disorder is more common in all individuals with artistic or scientific jobs, including researchers, dancers, photographers, and authors. The majority of the other psychiatric diseases, such as depression, anxiety syndrome, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, were more prevalent among authors in particular. They also had a 50% higher chance of committing suicide compared to the general public.”

This story originated in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. The research paper was entitled, ‘Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study’. An abstract can be found and read here.

All this reminds me of three other concepts in which heightened mental power and mental health may meet.

Hypomania -Literally meaning ‘below mania’ this is the mildly elated state between lifeless apathy and crippling anxiety. People in this state are perceived as being energetic, euphoric, overflowing with new ideas, and sometimes highly confident. They might also seem immune to fear and doubt and have little social inhibition, talking to strangers easily, offer solutions to problems, and find pleasure in small activities.

Eustress – Literally Meaning ‘good stress’ this is a positive type of pressure in which we are finely balanced between distress of low arousal (‘boreout’) and the distress of too many demands (‘burnout’). Our ability to find this balance depends on whether we look at stressors as threats or challenges. When facing a challenge in the future, it can easily turn into anticipatory anxiety.

Hyperfocus – This not only means intense concentration on a narrow field of focus (somewhat similar to optimal experience or ‘flow’). It may also be related to a clinical condition in which a person finds it difficult to switch between tasks and activities.

So then, is he nuts or is he a genius? Both it seems, depending on the balance, the mood, the context. And maybe at the same time too.