Startups · Entrepreneur

Any suggestions on how to deal with founder depression?

Veeshu mahajan SEO Specialist at Freelancer

September 7th, 2016

There has been some discussions and blog posts around this topic. The entrepreneurial journey seems to be a lonely one. With the rollercoaster of emotions the dark days can be very hard to swallow. Any tips on how to handle these challenges?

Andrew Donoho President at Donoho Design Group, LLC

September 8th, 2016

Beware of advice from folks who do not suffer from depression themselves. They just don't get it. Managing depression, as I have for 30+ years, age 56, takes a multi-prong approach. It isn't easy. There isn't a just "suck it up" and execute solution. Allow me to share.

First, can you be a depressed entrepreneur? Yes, many folks do it.

[Wow, a large part of my answer about sleep and exercise was deleted by the posting system. I don't have time to reproduce it right now.]

TL;DR: sleep & exercise are even more important to beat depression.

Everyone's depression is different.Your physician is your guide and co-experimentalist. There is no magic pill. There are a collection of pills that can each be partially effective. You will not know until you start trying them out. Don't stop when you get some success. That has just started to show you which parts of your brain need support. Then work to refine that good result.

Recreational drugs. If you can dispense with alcohol, then do so. It is a central nervous system depressant. It retards your progress. I have a wine problem and cannot follow this advice. We do decant our wine into two containers and reserve one for the following evening. This has helped a great deal. I cannot speak to the effects of other recreational drugs.

Finally, Therapy: There is a feedback loop caused by negative thoughts. You are in control of this loop. You must break it when it starts. I find that, hokey as it sounds, that explicitly thinking positive, optimistic thoughts helps. When the negativethoughts flow, turn them around and ask yourself what is the most optimistic way you could view the same issue? This helps me break the cycle. Yes, the optimistic view is as much a lie as your negative thoughts. You're not trying to believe them either; but, rather, laugh at both of them. (BTW, optimists are delusional too. Depressed people see the world the way it is, they just cannot do anything about it. If you can shake the depression, you'll be more grounded than other entrepreneurs and more successful.)

Therapists call the above Cognitive Behavior Therapy. It is part of the solution. Don't dismiss it as too soft and squishy. Your brain is a soft and squishy place. It needs reprogramming.

For me:
Sleep > exercise > nutrition > drugs >recreational drugs > therapy.

Do them all. If you must trim, then do so from the right.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

September 8th, 2016

Jana, fingerpainting may be your thing, but please don't perpetuate some anti-science approach based on a poorly-informed, anecdotal and biased perspective. Antidepressants save people's lives. Not everyone needs them, but for the people who do, it can mean everything.

Numerous founders who failed to treat their depression have met with some pretty sad ends. Read this and the related links. 

Founders seem to be much more likely than the general population to suffer from clinical depression and anxiety... but it's more likely a pre-existing condition or predisposition rather than something actually caused by the roller coaster of a startup.

I have to say that Andrew's perspective rings the truest for me. Of course there are a bunch of options, but for the startup founder who lives in their head and just wants to "fix the problem" and get back to work, you've basically got what Andrew suggested:

* Sleep
* Eat well
* Exercise
* Stop drinking booze

* CBT (especially if anxiety is part of the equation)

* If you need it. Not everyone does. But lots and lots and lots of people do.

Of course there are other approaches and YMMV - I certainly don't mean to say other things don't work. But when you talk to people who have dealt with clinical depression and anxiety most of their lives, something like Andrew's formula seems to have the best results.

Robert Lee

September 7th, 2016

Yes, Veeshu. Being an entrepreneur will inevitably have its ups-and-downs as you go through your journeys. And many of us are sol entrepreneurs even though much of the talk these days is all about co-founders. So for those of us who launch alone, the extremes can sometimes take a deep toll that takes time and conscious effort to fix. Brad Feld recently kicked off an open discussion about this long unspoken cycle: depression. Few people discuss this problem and fewer still even admit that it exists.

Always find a way to make some time - however little - for yourself. To enjoy something just for yourself.

At some of my talks to startups and entrepreneurs, I remind people to remember what they tell you during the safety announcement on an airplane: "Be sure to put on your oxygen mask first before turning the help the person next to you."

If you don't take care of yourself first, you're not going to be able to help anyone else very well.

Good advice.

Sherman Sall Founder at Startency

September 8th, 2016

Peter Crane up in the thread sent the perfect link. Most of those things I was going to write. Especially about the gym and friends. Being a founder is shit lonely, hard and frustrating. Meditation is a really smart way to start and end the day as well. The thing about a good founder is his or her ability to stand in the constant shit storm day after day, while acknowledging the sunshine above and knowing that flowers are just ahead - which is my crass over simplification of one of the basic buddhist principals.

Scott Harrison Founder at HomeDB

September 7th, 2016

In general, I hate books on what makes a great leader/founder or what it takes to build successful company. They're loaded with allegories about what it takes to succeed and for the most part are all BS.

But, if anyone is running or plans to start a company, there is one book that I suggest you read, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" by Ben Horowitz. It is a lonely path, but there's strength in knowing that other's have been down the same road and suffered through similar if not greater difficulties.

I found this summary of the book which I think fits nicely ... "how to make if though the struggle without quitting or throwing up too much".

Scott Harrison Founder at HomeDB

September 8th, 2016

Just to clarify, my assumption is that by addressing this issue within a forum of entrepreneurs that you are asking about the personal stresses of building a business.  That's a great subject which isn't discussed as often as it should be and a great discussion for this forum.  If you are talking about true clinical depression, there are likely far better sources of information and assistance.  

Andy Beran Owner, Quality Transport Services of Arizona

September 8th, 2016

Get a mentor - someone with experience - but not directly involved in the business. A person you can share your thoughts and fears with and get honest feedback. Yes - it's lonely to be an entrepreneur - and then a small business owner - but you don't have to do it alone.

Check with SCORE for a seasoned mentor. No charge. Meet as often as you want. Great resource.

Robert Masters Founder & Leader of Organizing Ecosystem Inquiry

September 8th, 2016

Veeshu, Thank you very much for raising this topic! Clearly has struck a need to be addressed by the responses it is getting. I am committed to following the conversation and see where it leads ... and contribute if so guided. I would love to hear more about why you raised this issue? Again, thank you, Robert William Masters

jana brubaker artist designer writer

September 8th, 2016

Andrew has a good point, "Beware of advice from folks who do not suffer from depression themselves" - but how about from a family of folks who suffer severe clinical depression? By nature/nurture logic, I should be depressed, but I have not experienced it. What I do differently from my family is aesthetic: care.

To the pill options recommended by some already in the thread, may I warn against them, and recommend art-making instead? I have yet to see a pharmaceutical repair more effective. Folks popping the antidepressants like Skittles may not realize how they seem to those of us on the outside - some of the most depressed people I've encountered, worse, pills seem to affect critical thinking/empathy skills, so they don't seem to get the connection before it's too late.

Cheering the physical/spiritual recommendations - yes, your mind/body deserve as much care as your soul.

Particularly with your SEO expertise, Veeshu, I'm guessing that means lots of screen/digital media time? Put in some analogue media time. That's what we will work on at Nadine:

Bambi Weavil Expert Social Media, Marketing & PR Strategist ★ Creating + Building Lasting Impressions for Businesses, Brands & Events

September 8th, 2016

Hi - have an anchor, have something (a spiritual practice if you're spiritual, something to ground you that you enjoy, a good support system of family/friends, a trusted circle of like-minded founders who are also grinding, get out in nature) to give you some balance. 

Subscribe to leaders in the startup community, keep learning and get excited about overcoming challenges and meeting goals.  Be obsessive about making your dreams a reality :)