- Startup founders are already under immense pressure to succeed in an industry where many fail, and fear they won’t be able to attract investors and talent if their personal struggles are revealed, some told Business Insider.
- But they aren’t alone. A new survey of nearly 600 startup founders found that over three-quarters — 78% — say their mental health has been suffering during the pandemic.
- Two-thirds reported feelings of loneliness, while 60% percent said they had been overworking, and 38 percent said they had been drinking and using substances.
- “It should be no surprise that the mental health part of the crisis is real, and accelerating,” venture capitalist Brad Feld told us.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In 2017, while running his startup Fresco News, John Meyer lost his father to suicide. Naturally, he was grief stricken. But as a 20-something, first-time CEO, he didn’t let it show.
“Startup founders worry about if they share, let’s say, something vulnerable about a big family issue they’re going through that’s creating a lot of anxiety and stress that they’ll be looked at differently,” Meyer, who is now running his second startup, Homebound, told Business Insider.
Anything that smacks of a mental wellness issue is “extremely stigmatized in the industry,” he said.
He found a path to healing almost by accident, while sharing what he was going through over a dinner with other startup founders.
“Once I did it, everyone around the table started doing it,” Meyer said. “I ended up realizing that most startup founders, at least these days, are going through very significant life issues outside of their company. But they can’t really work through it because they can’t find the time to go to therapy. They don’t have normal friends who are not in business or startups to talk to about those kinds of things.”
As COVID-19 roils the U.S., the public’s mental health has become more perilous. A CDC survey published August 14 found 11% of respondents had struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past month.
Startup founders in particular, who already live in a high-stress world, have experienced a mental downward spiral, according to a new survey from consulting firm The Kung Group.
The survey of 584 founders, running startups ranging from pre-seed to Series D stages, found a spike in negative emotions and unhealthy behaviors since the onset of the U.S. outbreak.
Specifically, 66% reported feelings of loneliness; 60% said they had been overworking; and 38% said they had been drinking and using substances. Overall, 78% said their mental wellbeing had suffered during the pandemic.
“Humans are simply not built to be isolated in their homes for months at a time,” said venture capitalist and TechStars cofounder Brad Feld, who has publicly discussed his own bouts with depression and anxiety.
“Founders, who are already under immense pressure from many directions, now have to contend with that dynamic for themselves, in an extremely uncertain business environment, connected only by video conferencing and email to their teams, investors, and customers, with no relief from the endless intensity of creating and leading a business,” Feld said.
Startup employees outside the C-suite struggle with their mental health as well. Yet Kung Group founder Jocelyn Kung said founders face a unique pressure to show no weakness. She worries that their unchecked stress could bleed into their decision-making and affect the entire company.
“There’s almost this unsaid expectation that the leader needs to be strong,” Kung told Business Insider. “The leader needs to have strong shoulders to hold up the organization.”