A Journey Of Mental Clarity From A Mental Health Startup Founder

05/11/2017 10:42 am ET

By Milan Steskal

As the founder of a mental health technology startup, I consider myself more mindful of my own mental health than most other founders, entrepreneurs or investors.

We all know that running a company is a real emotional rollercoaster. This may seem easy to understand, but I’ve seen so many fellow founders, as well as investors, that do not realize it.

The culture still embraces the founders who work every day, including on weekends, and don’t take any days off. Some investors even keep pushing them into doing so.

A Common Thread

It seems that the only important thing for everyone is to reach a certain number of users, customers or revenue every month. By focusing on “just this one more month,” one can easily fall into the trap of not realizing the endless loop they are in, and sadly never get out of. That can have consequences beyond the imagination.

According to Dr. Freeman of University of California San Francisco and his colleagues from UC Berkeley and Stanford, self-reported mental health concerns were present across 72% of the entrepreneurs in their sample group.

There have been stories about founders committing suicide, getting divorced, ending up addicted to drugs or alcohol and ruining their lives. Many who recover from their illness or troubles have started raising awareness. It was too late for them to realize they had a problem, so they want to help others prevent it. Let’s listen to them.

You don’t need any mental health training in order to start being mindful of your own mental health. Even though it’s not clinically correct, I’d consider you mindful if you accept that emotions and mental health are real, and you are no exception. That’s the most important first step for everyone.

Even the royal family and Michelle Obama, as well as celebrities like Lady Gaga, run campaigns for removing mental health stigma. 

Finding the Right Tools

If you Google a bit, you will find tools and ways that help you to be mindful of your feelings. For example, feeling sad for no particular reason may be a sign of depression, or feeling stressed for no particular reason may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Finding the right tools really depends on whether you want to use them for self-assessment and whether you have a therapist or not. You can ask your therapist about a mental health assessment.

If you are looking for self-assessment tools, I use a handy iPhone app called Depression Test. If you prefer a more complex app that allows you to manage your mood, have a look at MoodTools. For a web-based self-assessment, MDCalc has good tools for depression, anxiety and many others. Of course, these online and digital tools are only informational and will never replace an assessment made by a professional. They should give you an idea of how you feel. If you have any concerns or start noticing a negative trend, I strongly recommend to reach out to your primary care physician or therapist.

Here are three tips I've found useful when attempting to improve your daily health:

1. Make sure to get enough sleep.

Some time ago, I had problems with my sleep. The company was growing slower than we planned and I was under a lot of pressure. I felt tired. Even though I slept long enough, my sleep wasn’t refreshing at all and I felt like a zombie sometimes, so I began tracking my sleep. It took me a few weeks to realize that my sleep was much better after a 30-minute run in the evening. I started doing that more often. The results were quite amazing -- my sleep became much better, I was much more refreshed and I became a bit more fit. Most importantly, I was able to handle pressure much more easiliy because I wasn’t tired. After a few weeks, I was able to sleep well even without the evening run.

2. Check in with yourself.

Last year, I started feeling sad and losing motivation, even when there wasn’t any particular reason for that. It took me some time to realize what was happening, and my wife helped me notice these changes in my emotions. I used our software to self-assess for depression, and the results were showing mild-to-moderate depression. The trend was negative, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

3. Don't be afraid to reach out.

I was afraid that this negative trend would get even worse, making it difficult to recover from. I found a therapist and scheduled an appointment, explaining my situation to her. Fortunately, she said that I didn’t reach the clinical level of depression and suggested that we start working on understanding my emotions, especially why some emotions cause depressive symptoms, like lack of motivation. This has helped me become more efficient at work and more relaxed at home with my wife, family and friends.

For many people, it’s usual to check their weight or blood pressure. So why not mental health? It takes only a few minutes each month and can have a significant impact on your future -- not only in business but also in your personal life.

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Milan is founder and CEO at Mentegram, improving productivity of mental healthcare.

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