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Guide HR: The dark side for entrepreneurs

Since you are an entrepreneur, some people imagine that you get to do whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. They think running a business means you can follow your passions and have the freedom to work with whomever you like. Some even believe an entrepreneur can choose to buy almost anything, and that the bank is always there for them.

Such sentiments, of course, are pipe dreams. In reality, you are probably free to work when you want — as long as you log 70 to 80 hours per week. You get to choose what you want to do, as long as it’s among the most urgent of your hundreds of important tasks. You hire someone who is available, even if he doesn’t fit the profile. You endure nights of insomnia because of business worries, and you work long, stressful hours, and then fight with your spouse because you are not there for the kids.

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Entrepreneurs are often idealized. They are perceived as invulnerable, happy, and able to brave all storms. The truth is a little darker.

Michael A. Freeman, former entrepreneur, psychiatrist, and clinical professor of psychology at UC-San Francisco’s medical school found that entrepreneurs suffer more mental health problems than the general population. According to his research:

  • 49 per cent of entrepreneurs suffer from a mental health problem, versus 32 per cent of the general population.
  • Almost a third of entrepreneurs suffer from two or more diagnoses.
  • 72 per cent of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected (through a family member) by a mental health problem, compared to 48 per cent of the general population.

The main diagnoses of mental health problems identified among entrepreneurs are: ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder), depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and addictions (drug, alcohol, sex, technology, or medication).

The traits that make entrepreneurs successful include boundless energy, creative ideas, motivation, strength of character, a high tolerance for risk, and a great desire for independence.

These same traits, when pushed to the extreme, can lead to downward spirals of stress, resulting in a lack of sleep, too little investment in other areas of life, lack of exercise, and chronic multitasking. In short, the same traits that fuel our entrepreneurs can also consume them.

As Freeman reported, “The people that we admire for being entrepreneurs seem to come from the same gene pool as the people who are kind of socially stigmatized because of mental health conditions,” implying that the traits “must confer some adaptive advantage otherwise they wouldn’t be so highly represented in the population.”

Let’s look at a few character qualities that benefit business owners but that have also been linked to specific mental illnesses.

  • Creativity and innovation: “Innovate or die” is the mantra of nearly all entrepreneurs. However, this attitude has been linked in several studies with psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, and substance abuse.
  • Goal attainment and achievement motivation: Pursuing goals is essential to business success but has also been correlated with bipolar disorder.
  • High risk tolerance: The acceptance of risk is a key ingredient in entrepreneurial success, but it often coexists with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and ADHD.

Since many entrepreneurs pay a high price for their “freedom,” it is critical to stop seeing them as invincible people. Instead, we need to see their vulnerability.

Some experts even argue that a society that values a strong economy must develop a system to help its leaders hone their strengths. As business creators, entrepreneurs are responsible for a big part of the economy. They create services, products, and jobs.

Supporting stable entrepreneurs creates a stable society.

But, if you’re reading this as an entrepreneur, you know you need to take responsibility for your own long-term success by investing in your mental health. Let’s look at a few key ways you can do that.

Passion is one important ingredient in success, but it’s not sufficient. You need to be able to maximize your surrounding environment by hiring the right people, executing a solid business plan, and adapting when internal or external circumstances change. But most importantly, you need to know yourself — your strengths, weaknesses, and values — and you must be able to manage yourself.

This involves knowing when your personality traits are helpful and when they cross the line, becoming weaknesses.

  • Self-assurance can become arrogance.
  • Expending too much energy can burn you out.
  • Developing too many ideas can result in disorganization and lack of focus.
  • Tolerating too much risk can cause financial difficulties.
  • Being too competitive can provoke conflicts.

This leads to an important question: How can you best foster the qualities that make you an entrepreneur while preventing the manifestation of their darker side?

  • Take time to exercise: It is good for your physical and psychological health and can help you focus, reduce anxiety,  and be more energetic.
  • Take time to eat healthy: Your body is your only vehicle to take you through life. You can buy a new tractor if your motor is done. If you’re done… you’re done.
  • Take time to meditate five to 10 minutes a day: It helps you think clearly, solve problems, and appreciate life.
  • Invest in your close relationships: It will increase your happiness and keep you from becoming a workaholic.

Remember, we are all vulnerable, so find a confidant with whom you can talk about anything and everything. You don’t always have to be strong.

Your self-worth is not the same as your net worth. You are more than your business.

About the author


Pierrette Desrosiers

Pierrette Desrosiers, MPS, CRHA is a work psychologist, professional speaker, coach and author who specializes in the agricultural industry. She comes from a family of farmers and she and her husband have farmed for more than 25 years (

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