Why We Care about Mental Health

It’s no surprise that startups are stressful. The breakneck pace and never-ending pile of work to be done; the looming prospect of potential failure; the financial stress and loneliness of building something on your own — these factors and more contribute to a highly stressful and emotional rollercoaster of a life during early stages. It’s not an easy career path to choose.

So it should be no secret, either, that entrepreneurs often go through bouts of depression and/or anxiety. In fact, levels of depression are much higher among entrepreneurs than the population at large.

But this does seem like a secret, camouflaged by our societal glorification of the tech entrepreneurial journey. The highs hide the lows, and the success stories (Facebook! Paypal! Snapchat!) are so overwhelmingly powerful that the other stories fade away.

But the truth is this: as an entrepreneur, you are more likely to be depressed than a regular person. In fact, you are more likely to be suicidal than a regular person. That’s real and scary, and accelerators have a responsibility to respond.

Startup accelerators advertise themselves as, essentially, a way for entrepreneurs to better their companies at a faster pace. But if we don’t offer the same support and resources for entrepreneurs to better themselves, we aren’t doing our jobs.

Our accelerator program prides itself on being incredibly supportive. We are a big, crazy family, and each week during the program, we celebrated the teams’ successes and bemoaned their setbacks.

But we did not talk often enough about high levels of stress, and what that might look like; we didn’t talk to family members about how they can be supportive of the entrepreneur, or how they can reach out to us for help. We had multiple leadership coaches and psychiatrists come in to speak, but they didn’t work individually with each company.

Fortunately, the leadership of the Global Accelerator Network on this issue has led to a Founder Wellness Pact across all GAN accelerators. Everyone committed to the pact has agreed to make mental health a key aspect of their program, and this has given programs like ours a framework to build upon for future cohorts.

The GAN Founder Wellness Pact will help us do what we had done, but not well enough — promote a culture of hard work AND rest, solidarity in success and failure, and ultimately, a network of unending resources and support.

This will entail a lot of work for a lot of programs, including our own.

Let’s make sure we ask, “How are you?” instead of just “How’s it going?” Let’s make sure we check in about company progress as well as individual progress — we are trying to build great leaders of great companies, after all, and that involves focus on the person, too.