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Be Your Own

Everyone needs to talk about their mental health. It is the fastest growing area in the medical arena and with good reason. Of course, like whiplash in a car accident, the mental stress ‘card’ is open to abuse and buzzwords such as ‘mental anguish’ now strike fear into the heart of any HR manager but there is, as they say, no smoke without fire and the brain controls all our systems so it makes good sense to keep our brains on an even keel. Recommended activities to improve our mental health include talking to people, eating healthy, doing exercise, living more in the moment, and avoiding stress.

These simple preventative measures are sometimes hard for entrepreneurs to adopt because entrepreneurship tends to mean working every hour that God sends to further the business: self-employed people do not have fixed hours and so can rarely switch off. This eventually leads to stress and because they are seen to be in charge of their own and usually other peoples destinies, they cannot afford to look weak or uncertain by talking to people about their personal problems. Time constraints also make it harder for them to eat regularly and sensibly and do regular exercise. However confident and on point any entrepreneur appears to be, the chances are that they are failing in their basic management of mental health and that, over a period of time, statistics show that compounded stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices will manifest in a serious downturn.

Unfortunately, statistics also show that a high percentage of successful entrepreneurs actually need mental illness to make them great. Nearly half of them report at least one mental health condition. Another third report two or more mental health issues such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression or substance abuse conditions. Mental health issues and success in the business arena might seem counter intuitive but depression, for instance, often brings empathy and creativity. ADHD sufferers make decisions faster. Those with bipolar disorder are often high achievers -  many successful hedge fund managers in the City in London suffer from some degree of narcissistic or bipolar disorder. The same traits which alienate entrepreneurs from other people also gives them the confidence in their own abilities necessary to push through deals others might baulk at. Steve Jobs was a classic example. His ADHD/OCD was legendary and drove him to follow up on every tiny detail in his products. He could not stand anything, from a typo to a spec of dust, to be out of place. Sometimes entrepreneurs need that maniacal overdrive to be super successful.

So, can all that necessary drive and ambition, attention to detail, and constant oversight with little or no help to bounce ideas off or discuss personal issues - qualities necessary for an entrepreneur to succeed - be maintained over a period of time without damage to mental health? Of course not. Especially as modern technology means we are now in constant communication, constantly available. Today’s technology driven business environment is brutal. There is little or no opportunity to take your eye off the ball, to take a break and there are a thousand more in line ready to take up the mantle if you slip up. The consequence? More often than not we see manifestations varying from from a neurotic tic to full blown nervous breakdown. It is invariably mental health which is the culprit and which inevitably kickstarts the damage. Ever increasingly this is proving the case as medicine explores the ins and outs of mental health disease and is discovering new relationships between depression, stress, anxiety etc etc which directly links to failings in our ultimate physical wellbeing. We give ourselves no time to recover. Look at fasting. Fasting for brief but regular periods is now widely prescribed because our body uses the time it would normally use digesting food to activate cancer fighting antibodies in our systems. People who fast regularly are less susceptible to cancer. It is the same with our mental health - both our bodies and our brain need down time to repair. It is all connected.

We need entrepreneurs. They create new companies and new jobs. To prevent burnout, depression and the physical downslide caused by stress, if they choose to talk about their mental health issues, discuss ways to relax and compartmentalise their business and personal lives, the chances are they will not only extend their useful working lives (to the benefit of everybody) but do so without depression and stress adversely affecting their day to day decisions. Social media and increasing intelligence on the complexity of mental health has caused the millennial generation to recognise that talking through problems, managing your mental wellbeing, is not weakness but strength.
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