Words by Fi Bendall
Mental health is one of the most significant issues of our time. It affects all of us in some way, whether it is because we are personally experiencing something like anxiety or depression, or because someone close to us is experiencing such problems. As I’ve written here before, mental health issues also affect entrepreneurs and business owners.
The daily stress of running a business can lead to physical fatigue and mental burnout. Constant worry and focus on business can also lead to a lack of focus on yourself, which can result in a careless attitude to personal mental health until it all comes crashing down around you. Here are three compelling examples of entrepreneurs who have dealt with mental health issues and come out stronger on the other side.
Remove the stigma and speak up
Sangu Delle is an entrepreneur and clean water activist from Ghana. His TED talk about his battles with anxiety and stress is funny, refreshing and honest. He talks about his problems accepting that mental health issues could affect him, because of the stigma such matters have in African societies.
Half-jokingly, he says: “Come down with pneumonia, and your mother will rush you to the nearest hospital for medical treatment. But dare to declare depression, and your local pastor will be driving out demons and blaming witches in your village.
” There’s still stigma attached to mental health issues in Western countries like Australia too, where many of us, older men especially, would prefer to suffer in silence and self-medicate than seek counselling and help. Delle’s message is simple: “Talk to your friends. Talk to your loved ones. Talk to health professionals. Be vulnerable. Do so with the confidence that you are not alone. Speak up if you’re struggling. Being honest about how we feel does not make us weak; it makes us human.”
Author and podcast host Tim Ferriss found massive success with The 4-Hour Workweek, a self-help book that instructs people on how to create a sideline business that will enable them to enjoy life better and reach their financial goals. However, life was not always so rosy for Ferriss. In one of his blog posts, Ferries recounts some dark days from his college years, when he was in the grip of a deep depression and seriously considering suicide.
One of Ferriss’s main lessons is that perspective matters. And often the best way to get that perspective is by talking to people and maintaining contact, as hard as that can be: “It’s easy to blow things out of proportion, to get lost in the story you tell yourself, and to think that your entire life hinges on one thing you’ll barely remember 5-10 years later.”
Ferriss has a big list of tips for how he has dealt with his mental health struggles, and key among them is to stay engaged with friends and family. If you can’t bring yourself to talk to friends and family, Ferriss pleads for you to reach out to professional counselling hotlines. “Sometimes, it just takes one conversation with one rational person to stop a horrible, irrational decision. If you’re considering ending your life, please reach out to them.”
The healing power of gratitude
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most positive and inspirational people in the world. Surely she is immune to the ravages of mental health issues? No, she’s not. In an interview with Vogue, Oprah speaks about her plunge into what she calls “deep sadness” following the release of Beloved, a film she had produced about the African American experience of slavery. It was a pet project for the media mogul and celebrity, but it flopped badly.
She told Vogue: “I actually started to think, Maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?”
Oprah quickly realised the key to turning things around was in focusing on all her good fortune and showing gratitude. “That’s when the gratitude practice became really strong for me,” she says, “because it’s hard to remain sad if you’re focused on what you have instead of what you don’t have.”
If you are thinking about suicide or experiencing a personal crisis, help is available. No one needs to face their problems alone. Call Lifeline: 13 11 14