The tech sector is built on bright minds developing new solutions to create economic or social impact. This fast-paced industry has high stakes, which require people to meet even higher expectations. Many individuals within the sector — especially startup founders — have small teams (meaning each person serves in multiple roles), work long hours, second jobs or are still in school and constantly worry about “making it.”
At the DMZ, we see that many entrepreneurs are still not talking openly about their mental well-being. And these challenges aren’t special to our organization. Mental health concerns in tech entrepreneurship are often referred to as “founder’s blues.” Between 2011 and 2017, founder’s blues has contributed to a number of high-profile suicides in the startup world, including Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit.
Researchers from the University of California found that 72% of entrepreneurs surveyed self-reported mental health concerns. And about 49% disclosed they deal with ADD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, addiction, depression or anxiety. These figures were described as “significantly higher” than non-entrepreneurs.
If we want to get serious about mental health in tech, we need to be honest about the environment in which we work in. Unfortunately, there is often no work-life balance for entrepreneurs. That is just the nature of the beast — there are short runs of funding and high expectations.
The pace of change in the sector is incredible and it’s all about seizing opportunities before your competitors. That’s why many feel it’s crucial to work endlessly and stay hungry — it’s a way of survival. And as a tech startup founder, you have to be aware of the fact that scaling your startup causes a high-stress environment, which can take a toll on you and your staff.
So, it’s not about solving the fact that individuals will come to face high levels of stress and anxiety. It’s about finding ways to equip them with the proper tools to maneuver the daily ups and downs of startup life.
We understand that being a tech entrepreneur can be an emotional enterprise — and that’s okay. The stigma around mental health in the tech sector (and society as a whole) isn’t an easy problem to solve, nor should we pretend like it is. That’s why, as a tech accelerator, we made it our responsibility to partner with an online counseling platform to provide our network of startups — a community of over 400 people — with access to free therapy.
However, for startups that may not have such resources through an accelerator program, there are still ways to address mental health concerns within your team. One way to do this is by creating safe spaces for employees.
As a very first step, founders should implement biweekly, one-on-one meetings with their staff. These meetings shouldn’t only be about work-related updates — they should also be a moment to address any personal concerns an employee might be having. These initial steps can lead the way to developing an open-door policy within your business.
It’s time to urge tech founders (who also play the role of an employer) to not dismiss their employees’ mental well-being. If you ignore such feelings, you’ll be shifting the problem elsewhere, which could drive company culture away from the values your business needs to uphold.