Business Print

Why ignoring your mental health is a losing game

As rewarding as running your own business can be, no one is prepared for the intensity of the highs and lows that come with the territory, or the general feeling of anxiety that seemingly never subsides. 

Written by Sam Duboc

Illustration by Sali Tabacchi 

It’s like riding a rickety roller coaster with a decades-old seat belt: a total thrill but stressful enough for you to question why you got on in the first place. Consequently, it’s not unusual to see entrepreneurs pushing through life in a less-than-ideal mental state, often repressing once-manageable emotions until they reemerge unexpectedly and with a vengeance.
I know because I’ve been there.

By the time 2011 came to a close, I was recovering from two heart operations and the loss of my dad, all of which was exacerbated by the sudden death of my brother. When combined with the constant demands of my professional endeavors, I didn’t stand a chance against the depression that eventually hit. At that time, I felt as though a fog had set in over me…and I wasn’t the only one: my family, friends, and colleagues were all impacted by my depression, and I realized that I needed help. Learning how to identify my issue, come to terms with it, and admit that effective treatment would require professional assistance was the light that started to pull me out.

Finding help wasn’t easy. It’s a difficult landscape to navigate with long wait times in the public system and extremely high costs in the private sector. I realized, though, that if I struggled to find the support I needed, others must too. Like any entrepreneur, I wondered if there was a better way. That moment of clarity inspired my mission of making effective, evidence-based mental health care affordable and accessible to all Canadians.

Unfortunately, the statistics are alarming. One in five Canadians will experience mental illness this year, and it continues to be a leading cause of disability across the country. But that doesn’t cover those who are impacted by mental illness, like the families, friends, and colleagues of those suffering. It takes a toll on everyone. Entrepreneurs possess no special immunity to these numbers. If anything, they’re more susceptible to depression and anxiety than most due to the inherent pressures of keeping a business afloat and the enduring belief that perceived weakness equates failure.

It takes courage to admit that they can’t succeed alone, so there’s no shame in tackling this problem head-on. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you know, here’s how you can start to eradicate the stigma of mental health and get started on the road to recovery:

Admit that you need help
Like any well-trained professional, it takes discipline and practice to master your emotions and maintain composure. Similar to world-class athletes, entrepreneurs benefit from people behind the scenes who can help them learn, train, and refine their game so they remain at peak performance.

For a CEO to imagine that they can somehow tough it out on their own is naive at best and dangerous at worst. It’s not a winning mindset. It’s the kind of approach that doesn’t take into account both how complex we are as people and how hard we push ourselves to achieve excellence. It’s also the kind of approach that can be a slippery slope, eroding what you used to consider your norm. That said, you must learn to heed the warning signs yourself. If you find that you’re spending long periods of time in distress, if you feel withdrawn, or if you’re not as invested in your former passions, don’t throw in the towel. Improve your game.

Understand what treatment actually entails
Few entrepreneurs can afford to take extended periods of time away from their jobs, but treating mild to moderate depression does not require a major lifestyle overhaul. The most practical solution delivers expert, online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) at a time and place that works best for you.

As someone who has made a commitment to democratizing access to mental health care, I can also tell you that our work is now as effective as it is accessible. Symptom reduction rates for digital CBT treatment match – and in certain cases exceed – what is typically seen in clinics, and can help you build the skills and coping mechanisms you need to become resilient to life’s challenges. That’s reason enough to take advantage of this vital resource at your fingertips. However, the most important thing to remember is to take that first step. Start small, do some research, and talk to a few experts. Even if you’re not ready to commit to a full treatment plan, you owe it to yourself to learn about your options.

Don’t sabotage your success
Finally, assemble your version of the pro-athlete support team and then get out of your own way. Have honest conversations with the people you trust and let them help you on your road to recovery. This is not an all-or-nothing game, so put your pride aside. It’s often a lifelong journey that requires patience, hard work, and an unrelenting commitment to overcoming the next hurdle. Importantly, keep in mind that your mental health does not define you. If you manage it well, it never will.

Above all else, don’t push aside your struggles or allow the stigma of mental health to guide your thinking. You now know better. Take how you feel seriously, act on it, and explore how a new generation of digital solutions is making it possible to play the game with more skill than ever before.

Sam Duboc is a veteran entrepreneur and Chair and CEO of MindBeacon Group