Is mental illness a predictor of entrepreneurial success?

Eleanor Carman Incoming BLP Sales Associate at LinkedIn

May 10th, 2015

After reading this article from the Washington Post, it's suggested that many entrepreneurs exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. However, the qualities associated with this behavior are also found to be themes vital to entrepreneurial success. Is the mental health of entrepreneurs something to be concerned about? Or, is it simply a prerequisite of success and something we have to learn to balance?

Leo PhD Product development executive, serial entrepreneur and Angel Investor

May 11th, 2015

Mental health is no laughing matter and that article must be read with caution.

Multiple things immediately came to mind, mostly concerning the article and the pop-science (read: inaccurate) way that it was written. The title is a click-bait, and there are plenty of implications that simply are not vetted, not even in the submitted paper that it referenced.

Firstly, the research paper the article referenced has not passed peer-review. The writer jumped the gun and quoted it as so.

Secondly, the research paper clearly stated that the data gathering was of a self-reporting survey. It had no objective measure of the entrepreneurs' "success", or even a clear definition of an entrepreneur. I did not see how the research verified with those who self-reported symptoms. Combing both self-identification with self-reporting, the error bar would be significant.

Thirdly, there are many correlation/causation problems in the article. And that's dangerous.

Our mental health treatment system in the United States is grossly inadequate, especially for the less privileged. The level of stigma associated with mental illnesses needs to drop to the level where people understand that it is no different from physical illnesses.

In short, while this is interesting, it must be read with a grain of salt. Entrepreneurs are not the only ones who need more care for mental health issues, everyone needs it.

As for it being a "predictor", that's not anything that you could imply based on the article linked.

Tom Maiaroto Full Stack Consultant

May 10th, 2015

Mental health is always something to be concerned about I'd say.

Depression does not "bring empathy and creativity." Be careful with click bait and misinformation.

It's also really bad for the media (or anyone) to attempt to glamorize mental illness.

Mike Fritsch Entrepreneur-In-Residence at NORTHEAST INDIANA INNOVATION CENTER, FORT WAYNE, IN. "I Help People Start/Grow Companies"

May 12th, 2015

I feel that being an Entrepreneur is a sickness, but more like chicken pox.  Once you've had it, it's always inside of you and when you least expect it, it reappears and makes you want to hang out your shingle(s) again.


May 11th, 2015

Eleanor Fascinating post that's generating interest & some scepticism. I liken it to Newton' Third Law and recognise that crushing depression is a price I pay for flashes of entrepreneurial brilliance. Whilst the lows can be very low & thus traumatic for my family, the highs more than compenstate. Robert Robert Ashton 01953 605000 07831 441736 @robertashton1 www.robertashton.co.uk

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

May 11th, 2015

Frederic Tudor went to jail and became almost insane. However, due to his stubbornness (even though when he doubt himself), he did manage to prevail and became a mogul of the times, with the crazy idea of exporting ice.

If you want to learn the hardships of entrepreneurs and ideas, I highly recommend you guys/gals take ~40 min of your time and watch the complete episode ofThe Development of the Ice Trade.


Alex Eckelberry CEO at Meros.io

May 10th, 2015

I have always had a problem with the "crazy genius" archetype -- that somehow, one needs to be a bit nutty to succeed. a) I've never seen this proven out and b) I think it's dangerous thinking. Some of the sanest, happiest people I've worked with are successful entrepreneurs.

I've worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs; my life is filled with working with them every day. I see those who are happy and those who are not. But the overriding factor is persistence and desire to succeed as the success matrix. Nothing else really seems to matter that much.

I also am really disturbed by the habitual labeling of anyone who has a creative drive or who is different in some way. The great thinkers might not fit the norm, and that's why they're great thinkers -- not because they are mentally ill.

Tim McDougall Founder at BuiltByLocal Ventures, LLC

May 12th, 2015

Many journalists need an instructional course in cause-and-effect and correlation.

Shingai Samudzi

May 10th, 2015

I think that speaks more to the qualities common to some of us who have the risk tolerance needed for entrepreneurialism. There are many who are risk tolerant who don't have these qualities. And mental illness/substance abuse is also highly common among those stuck in permanent homeless situations, for very different reasons. I've read other studies that suggest religious faith as a common trait among successful entrepreneurs, citing some qualities that run counter to some of those listed in the wapo article (substance abuse, for example). I'd take any interpretation coming from a "pop science" article like the

Karen Leventhal

May 11th, 2015

I do believe there can be a relation between craziness and genius. My friend and I were goofing around taking some online personality tests-- I came out high on two subclasses of narcissism-- 1) believing I was a leader. 2) Believing I was special.  I thought-- What entrepreneur can do this without believing they can be a leader and are somehow special enough to overcome the general failure statistics?  You would drop out the first month otherwise. 

What is crazy, really? Somehow we know that geniuses are geniuses and crazy people are crazy people. And the difference seems to be -how in touch with reality are you?    Even that isn't so simple. If Elon Musk had spent his fortune building an electric car company that failed, would he be crazy, instead of genius? 

Large parts of entrepreneurship are "crazy" you have to believe passionately in something that is a figment of your imagination. That most other people probably won't even see, much less become devoted to. You have to have extraordinary energy reserves to make big changes and to endure the hardships. That energy can move into mania and into depression when it's blocked. Maybe people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or Richard Branson found a positive outlet to channel all of that energy so it didn't become disruptive but rather constructive? What if Winston's Churchill's depression was because he needed a huge challenge to be who he was? Then when he finally had a change to save entire free world, finally he had something constructive to turn that energy to? 

 Reading this thread, I think part of my own problem has been a fear of being crazy or as perceived as being crazy. I tried to cover my tracks by intellectually acknowledging "reality" as if that some how made it less crazy-- "Yes, I acknowledge that statistically speaking my business has a high probability of failure." That made me in touch with reality-- or did it?   

The catch 22- is that nobody who has made a huge difference-- MLK, Steve Jobs-- did it by hesitating or by doubting themselves and their visions.  Call it a reality distortion field-- charisma, whatever, but by being "crazy" they made their delusions into reality through the strength of their beliefs.  So it worked. So all the sudden they are genuises instead of crazy. 

But many people who do the same end up in the psych ward. Intuitively we know there is difference between one form of crazy and the other, but I haven't been able to pin down a good definition yet. 

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

May 10th, 2015

Eleanor, what a laugh! The stereotype certainly is tempting to indulge in. Let's safely say that self presence and the entrepreneurial experience are two simultaneous experiences. An easy example is to consider a time you've discussed share distributions. Maybe you've encountered that moment when negotiations get tough and there's some dissatisfaction or friction in the room about share distributions. The ah-ha moment I've seen result (however well those waters get navigated) is that share distributions means little unless people continue to contribute their efforts. The concept could be looked at as "good will". Without getting too off-topic this seems to be the "soft" side of business.

Back to mental illness, I think the other idea is to remove the stigma. By engaging in business, you are putting all your stock into good will and you are creating an accounting imbalance such that when your good will is exhausted it leaves you happier and with a lot of cash. The trick is there are all kinds of ways to do this but most people have latent issues come to the surface during this process since total self reliance is an intense experience for anyone to go through. Sure, some people seem to end up in this weird place of sustaining themselves off some very anti-social behavior patterns but this is no different than any office staff.

Without reading the article, I think the headline prompts me to suggest that starting a business means creating a great imbalance. The trick is to exit properly from the madness, and some people never do this. I sometimes joke all those annoying panels with millionaire executives is actually therapy millionaires require after all the stress of creating all that wealth. Then they go home to their jet skis or whatever and forget about their problems.

I'll end my ramble there.

Self development is always there in this fishbowl :)

Sent from my iPhone