The relentless digital age, infinite funding allocations from venture capital, and unrealistic ideals, set by self-made doyens such as Mark Zuckerberg, Will Shu and Brian Chesky are engendering STEM entrepreneurs and new business owners to struggle more than you think.

And it’s hardly surprising. Existing in a fast-paced technology-driven epoch has meant that
millennials and business owners are more determined than ever to become the next best thing.

The struggle is real; undergoing never-ending work experience, networking like never before, and refusing to ‘switch off’ is what entrepreneurs are enduring to become the next up-and-coming co-founder of the STEM industry. Unfortunately, this comes at little financial gain and at significant mental cost.

The catalystsMental Health in the STEM Industry

Social media camouflage

Modern-living has built a plethora of business-savvy stereotypes that are a popular hit on social networks (cough – LinkedIn).

Additionally, it seems as if every other Instagram account is a projection of an independent business or a creative concept. Undoubtedly, success is rife and well-received across social channels, albeit, as the proverb goes appearances can be deceiving…

Publishing your latest activity across social network channels can be pressuring for every user – the need to be liked, appear well and receive high engagement – let alone a budding business owner who’s already burdening a heavy-load of stress.

For struggling entrepreneurs, the act of maintaining another face across another outlet, tends to take its toll. The need to upkeep a glorified wall, flush with accomplishments and achievements during a time of turmoil is particularly difficult on mental health.

Additionally, such deceiving online behaviour from business candidates can also inflict damaging effects on likewise business persons and future generations, whom may not be able to relate during their times of hardship.

Venture capital burden

The substantial growth in start-up companies – lead by a millennial’s desire to deliver the best tech product, become the most successful tech business and make the bill for most influential director in tech – has positioned the UK as the “leading European destination for international tech investors, with British tech companies attracting almost three times more venture capital investment than any other European country over the past two years.” But such pressurising venture capital has only overwhelmed business scalers.

Recent statistics from a Harvard Business School study state 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail”. Additionally, results delivered from the 100 stories of Growth campaign reveal a staggering 25% of entrepreneurs claim to have suffered mental or emotional health from starting up a business, choosing to “suffer in silence” rather than speak out.

The results display an obvious correlation between the deterioration of small businesses and mental health, influenced by capital investment.

Fortunately, business owners and entrepreneurs are beginning to open up and speak out about mental health, helping others through their experiences. Findings show that one of the most difficult situations for entrepreneurs is braving a face in copious high-pressure environments, when battling anxiety and depression.

Other difficulties faced were: crippling isolation; the inability to share their feelings with close friends and family, sheer lack of sleep, all-consuming work-related thoughts and the consistent threat of failure.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Fortunately, the widespread despair that has laden start-up businesses, is encouraging directors to speak out, collate and initiate change. Lifting the veil on mental health, Guy Tolhurst, managing director of 100 Stories of Growth, is cracking the taboo. His network offers business figures, a platform to communicate with one another, and share their inspiring experiences.

Such insightful guidance contributed from lead partners, influences start-up SME’s to make their growth goals a reality. The campaign ecosystem encourages VC investors to not only financially take responsibility, but to supply emotional guidance for SME’s also.

Similarly, James Routledge founder of Sanctus – a community of mental-health influencers and Michelle Morgan – director of Pjoys – are using their crippling encounters with mental health to inspire entrepreneurs on their journey. James birthed Sanctus with his best friend George, after enduring “stress, anxiety, panic attacks and sleepless nights” during the set-up of his first business conquest.

The Shoreditch-based business provides spaces for sufferers both in and outside of office, where workers can address mental illness head on. James spoke of his mental struggle when running a start-up, he said:

“You’re under immense pressure, from the outside and from the inside. Externally, you’re under pressure from shareholders, employees, customers, and the friends and family who don’t understand what you’re doing. Then internally, you put huge pressure on yourself to succeed.”

James is now working towards building a mental health gym to address the importance of working on and improving mental health, highlighting how the maintenance of a functional nervous system is just as important as up-keeping good physical health.

Similarly, when establishing and building Livity from the ground up, Michelle Morgan –founder of Pjoys – underwent years of turmoil when turning Livity into “an award-winning, multi-million pound turnover business”.

The mental health campaigner dedicated herself to her brand and consequently was “consumed with hollowness and helplessness”. Whilst “confronting the evil twins” anxiety and depression, Michelle reshaped her start-up venture, channelling her inspiration from being “stuck” at home with mental illness, into her latest vision, Pjoys; a bespoke pyjama line that artistically delivers inspirational stories and messaging for mental health sufferers.

Measures for SME start-up directors to combat mental health

  • One of the cons to scaling a business is that it’s all consuming, inflicting long-work hours and zero social life. Make time to socialise and think about anything else that isn’t your business. By consistently taking as little as five minutes a day, you can shift your headspace of neurotic thoughts and escape the fog.
  • Be a part of a fulfilling mental health campaign, whereby people of the same profession reflect on their experiences. Campaigns like 100 stories of growth and Sanctus offer industry professionals a platform to develop a network, where alike entrepreneurs can communicate and inspire. Similarly, social pages and groups across social media offer platforms for users to discuss mental health. Hearing a similar experience to your own, from a leading professional helps to ease the isolation that anxiety and depression shapes. Additionally, having an outlet to channel your thoughts and feelings is great for omitting unwanted thoughts and feelings, without the ‘guilt’ of burdening close friends and families.
  • Reach out to work coaches. Sanctus spend time integrating work coaches into the workplace to spread awareness of mental health within the industry. Introduce a work coach into your SME to break the taboo, encourage conversation about mental health and collectively come together.
  • Sometimes it’s the simplest of measures that make the biggest differences. Michelle Morgan’s latest motto in her new business, is to take things “slowly but joyfully.” When possible: delegate, accept time off, alter your workspace, take breaks and exercise.
  • Many business directors have found talking sessions with therapists a solution or a step in the right direction to recovery. Charlie Mowat Founder and Director of The Clean Space, a cleaning services firm, said: “I go to therapy sometimes to maintain my mental health and tackle important issues before they become big problems…” Charlie also finds meditation and keeping a journal also helpful. Therapy sessions are another way for entrepreneurs to communicate their problems without judgement. As for entrepreneurs, publically disclosing feelings is often impossible, with business owner’s preferring to protect their brand over their mental health.

Have you experienced mental health decline when starting up your SME? Do you think enough is being done in the workplace to support business start-ups? Let us know your thoughts.