Are founders touched with fire?
Learn why entrepreneurs are almost 50% more likely to experience depression, ADHD, and other mental health conditions, and what CEOs like Sam Altman think of founder depression.
Note: The title inspired by the research paper “Are Entrepreneurs Touched with Fire?” published by Michael A. Freeman, M.D. Special thanks to Jakub Zieliński from Mindgram, who recently shared this study with me.
From Michael A. Freeman:
Entrepreneurs create the vast majority of new jobs, pull economies out of recessions, introduce useful products and services, and create prosperity (…) Prior research has identified the personality traits of successful entrepreneurs, but little is known about the nature of their mental health characteristics.
By the numbers
50% more likely to experience mental health issues than average
10x more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar depression
6x more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD
2x more likely to be diagnosed with depression
A surprising 72% of the entrepreneurs in this research reported a personal (49%) or family (23%) mental health history.
To learn more about the research methodology and results, read the full paper.
What I think
The chicken or the egg? Are we becoming more vulnerable to mental health issues as a consequence of our entrepreneurial lifestyle, OR is the presence of mental health vulnerability conducive to becoming a founder?
Whatever the correct answer, one thing is certain - we work in an extremely stressful environment, and we must take care of ourselves. Ensuring that we prioritize mental health and well-being alongside our business goals is crucial.
What others think
From Sam Altman:
If you ask a founder how her startup is going, the answer is almost always some version of “Great!”
There is a huge amount of pressure as a founder to never show weakness and to be the cheerleader in all internal and external situations.
The world can be falling down around you—and most of the time when you’re running a company, it is—and you have to be the strong, confident, and optimistic. (…)
Failing sucks—there is no way to sugarcoat that. But startups are not life-and-death matters—it’s just work.
From Marc Andreessen:
First and foremost, a start-up puts you on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything you have ever experienced. You flip rapidly from day-to-day — one where you are euphorically convinced you are going to own the world, to a day in which doom seems only weeks away and you feel completely ruined, and back again. Over and over and over. And I’m talking about what happens to stable entrepreneurs.
There is so much uncertainty and so much risk around practically everything you are doing. The level of stress that you’re under generally will magnify things incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed and huge magnitude. Sound like fun?
Thanks for reading The Runway! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.