Depression and the Business Owner

Depression is a dark and frustrating place to be in no matter what you do for a living. Entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges when depressed. That's because for many entrepreneurs, their personal mental outlook directly affects their business outlook.
When you're depressed, you're not productive. When you're not productive, your business suffers. When your business suffers, your depression deepens. And the cycle continues and can become more insidious with every iteration.

Entrepreneurs know that their business successes are personal successes -- and their business challenges are personal challenges. The phrase “it’s not personal; it’s business” doesn’t apply to them. And so a personal struggle like depression leads to business challenges

Depression in the life of a business owner is so often hidden away and internalized-- after all, you're never allowed to show that you are struggling.

I was at a conference recently where a successful entrepreneur was being interviewed about his success and struggles. I've heard these type of interviews so many times that they have become repetitive and boring but the reason this one stood out was his vulnerability and transparency about the struggles he had in the past and still has today but he often pointed out that even while he and the business were struggling they had to put on a good face to the community, clients, vendors and especially the investors and the bank. he used the phrase that running a successful company depended on using a smoke and mirrors approach that hides any weakness. You can't run a business without putting a good face on things, and as some people put it, "fake it till you make it". This makes us hide any struggles that we have. Part of what gives depression its power is the shame -- and the need to conceal those feelings to give off the aura that everything is awesome, business is great and I'm doing fantastic. We desperately need openness and transparency but the balance between transparency and the need for "smoke and mirrors" is a hard balance to find when running a business.

Yet how can we deal with this problem if we can't acknowledge that it exists? Brad Feld, a early leader in the tech startup world, admits his own struggles with depression and tells us that depression is very common in the startup realm. Though often internalized and hidden away, despite the way we increasingly admit and even celebrate failure in the startup community, we still don't like to acknowledge depression as a struggle “For some reason we’ve embraced failure as an entrepreneurial trait that is okay,” he wrote, “but we still struggle with acknowledging and talking about depression.”

As a business coach I have dealt with so many business owners who deal with depression, most would never admit it or call it that or even realize it. But as their business coach, I am the one person who they can be transparent with and openly admit that their business/life sucks. They tell me about the nights lying awake staring up at the ceiling, indigestion boiling up their esophagus worrying about their business, their family, their employees families, their own life. They tell me how bad the collitus is getting, how they are desperately looking for a way out that they aren't sure exists.

And as business owners you can't get around the tie between personal and business, your business struggles will cause you to struggle personally and your personal issues show up in the business.

So how do you deal with it when it's so intertwined? Where do you start? Does fixing the business fix the personal issues, or does changing the business owner's mental state change the trajectory of the business?

There is no "one way." You can tackle this from either end, improve their business-- then it's easier for them to deal with their personal health issues, help them see the truth instead of the lies that they are believing and their business likely will start improving.

But this type of situation really speaks to the need for a coach, someone that they can be transparent with. Someone who can look at their situation without emotion and fear, who can see reality and communicate that reality back to them, someone who can spot the obvious to anyone else hole in the boat that is sinking their business.

Better than trying to tough it out and endanger the life of the business on which many lives are depending, including your own. Better than internalizing the struggle and making your life suck and possibly shorter. Find a business coach who has been down that road before with all it's craziness and try opening up and have them lead you on a healthy path out of depression for both you and your business.


  1. Seth, as my business coach, you've certainly helped me deal with the stress, frustration, self-doubt, and other challenges I've faced as a business owner. Knowing how you listen and guide, I'm sure you're approach is also beneficial to business owners who struggle with depression.

  2. Good article about depression. I look at the same topic from a metabolic point of view. Business owners have a whole lot of extra decisions that have to be made, and they have to wear a lot of different hats. That means they have compounded stress beyond just making a living and supporting a family. That extra stress burns certain nutrients at a faster rate, leading to deficiencies in those nutrients. Some of the nutrients are cofactors that support the individual's genetics that run their metabolism. Having nutrient deficiencies can result in a lot of health issues, but among them are that food isn't digested as well - so gastrointestinal problems set in, it means that neurotransmitters can't be made properly - so the person experiences anxiety and depression. It also means they have fatigue, because the body needs to adapt other nutrients that are less efficient, to do the job instead. Fatigue often means self treatment with a jolt of coffee in the morning and then alcohol or something for sedation at night. All of this coupled with the fad diet that the person assumes is 'healthy', even though it doesn't make them feel their best and doesn't support their metabolic needs. So from my point of view, depression is usually a correctable metabolic issue.


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