Rebranding Professional Help for Entrepreneurs

"For the ambitious professional or entrepreneur, mild to moderate depression or anxiety can actually be productive" Dr. Sam Warren, my primary doctor, also a Stanford grad, explained.

"If you replay a conversation ten times in your mind, while someone else just moves on, who do you think learns more from the experience?"

But when does the drive to succeed turn into a hopeless, downward spiral? “If depressed and anxious, professionals can have a distorted view of danger and self-worth, which means as they replay the conversation, they learn self-defeating lessons, not helpful ones” notes Kirk Honda, a Seattle therapist.

The trouble with mental health today is the disproportionate amount of attention paid to the more extreme ends of the spectrum. On the flip side, raising more awareness of the early signs of anxiety and depression could actually help professionals seek help sooner—before things get unnecessarily worse.

Turns out, at least one in four professionals and entrepreneurs fall into this less extreme, "worried-well” category, and experience some of the following early signs of low self-esteem, depression & anxiety throughout their careers[i]:

  • Back Pain
  • Stiff neck & shoulders
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Over-eating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Racing thoughts
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unusual social anxiety
  • Feeling wired, on-edge
  • Less interest in typical activities
  • Persistent negative attitude
  • Feeling unlike yourself

Notice how many of these symptoms can be managed privately, without raising any alarms?

Moreover, the majority of those treating their depression and anxiety alongside a therapist are actually perceived as wholly functional by their teammates and friends, reported Honda, who has been practicing for 19+ years.

Despite the stigma around those struggling with mental health, the "worried-well" demographic appear to be doing fine for the most part—ambitious, well-educated, accomplished—but for whatever reason, they're struggling internally.

While symptoms may start as relatively mild and manageable, leaving them unchecked for too long paired with a lack of social support and an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to hopeless despair and unbridled worry taking over an otherwise sharp mind.

Oftentimes, these “worried-well” professionals seek help only after a loved one persistently encourages them, or a doctor diagnoses their physical symptoms as "stress-induced" and refers them. As many as three out of five of the "worried-well" professionals I’ve come across so far have eventually found someone more experienced to help address their core personal challenges, and are incredibly grateful.

Most health insurance plans even cover most, if not all, therapy fees, with co-pays typically running about $20/session for many plans.

Despite these benefits, many professionals still avoid therapy. Though podcasts like Honda's Psychology in Seattle debunk many of the myths surrounding mental health, there's still more de-stigmatization work to do.

To start, for those worried about becoming dependent on therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapists have an 80% effectiveness rate of improving signs of depression and anxiety within just 10 sessions[ii]

And for those concerned with privacy, HIPAA regulations bind therapists to keeping patient records confidential. Even if employers or investors asked, therapists can’t reveal any Personal Health Information (PHI), let alone confirm any client relationships. Any data breaches must also be reported, or else providers can face millions of dollars in regulatory fines.

If timing and busy schedules are a barrier, over 2.5 million therapists now see clients over video chat. As more insurance companies embrace telehealth, the less "work-from-home" appointment days and time commuting between offices will stand in the way of getting help.

Whatever the rationalizations, I've raised discussions on mental health at tech meet-ups around Seattle and the Bay Area through Well Connected Now, and have heard too many dark stories of Founder Depression and undervalued or unappreciated employees.

Unfortunately, the lesser-known realities of entrepreneurship can be strikingly dark and lonely, especially when considering the pressures of maintaining an untarnished image of a successful business and veiling potential issues so not to scare away your team and investors.

Not everyone knows there are Executive Coaches available, either. As it turns out, many high-ranking professionals privately call these experienced industry/entrepreneurial business consultants to brainstorm challenges without any conflicts of interest.

As the Economist, the Atlantic, and YCombinator's Sam Altman raise more awareness on Founder Depression, entrepreneurs like 500 Startups Venture Partner Sean Percival, TechStars Co-Founder Brian Feld, and Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh have publicly encouraged founders to figure out how to manage their psychology.

Things could be much easier for "worried-well" professionals and entrepreneurs, especially if professional help could be rebranded as more accessible and socially acceptable for those new to the struggles of mental health.

Whatever the circumstances, budget, or preferences, it's time to reconsider who can benefit from mentors, coaches, and therapists.

 

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If you or someone you know is going through a tough time, Well Connected Now connects professionals to professional help: mentors, coaches, and therapists. From de-stigmatizing mental health to providing video chat access to therapists, Well Connected Now aims to resolve millennial entrepreneurs' and "worried-well" professionals' core career-related challenges.

Lisa Abdilova is the Founder and CEO of Well Connected Now, and formerly a Microsoft Tech Evangelist & Product Marketing Manager for OneDrive, Outlook.com, Bing, and IE. You can find her online at: about.me | LinkedIn | @abdilisa

 

[i] National Alliance on Mental Illness: Facts & Numbers

[ii] Stewart, Chambless, 2009, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Adult Anxiety Disorders in Clinical Practice: A Meta-Analysis of Effectiveness Studies