We are living in an ‘age of anxiety’. For entrepreneurs, anxiety is fast becoming a silent monster that is creeping in unnoticed. It is time that we wake up to this modern-day malady.
Typically, when a tech founder sends out a note on the internet with the image that says ‘HELP’ written across it, it is generally assumed that his star coder moved to greener pastures leaving him high and dry.
But when you realise why Sanchit Sethi, Founder of StayUncle, choose to put out that image it will cease to be a laughing matter.
“Help!” he wrote, “I have lost the steam.” This confession is like a Harakiri in the high-testosterone world of startups where ‘passion’ is your driving force and hustle your mantra. If you lose ‘steam’ midway, you might as well pack up and go home.
For Sanchit, it started well. “Business was growing 200 percent MOM. In the next couple of months, I had reached places I never anticipated I will reach this soon. All my startup dreams were coming true. I was living the life people desire to live; bigger office, bigger team and great people around. More business than ever flowed in and what not. I had everything around me.”
Except that he realised he no longer had the drive to take his startup forward. “As a founder of a growing startup, I am confessing that I have lost it.”
Heartbreaking as it is, Sanchit’s confession points to a disturbing trend in the startup ecosystem — the high prevalence of anxiety disorder, which, if left untreated, can lead to depression.
Stress and anxiety are a given in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world of business, and startups are no exception. Even though a startup uses tech to disrupt how their customers engage with a service or a product, the founders (sometimes even startup employees) are increasingly finding themselves at the risk of coming under the wheels of this ‘disrupting’ juggernaut.
“I have (also) started doubting most of the prevailing thoughts in the startup ecosystem,” writes Sanchit. “Thoughts like the need to hustle, the need to not give up, keep failing till you succeed, break things fast and many more. You know where’s it going,” he adds.
So, you have depression?
Despite awareness about mental health in recent times, it continues to remain the least spoken about. Founders fear no one will fund their startups, employees fear they may no longer have a job. This fear of “log kya kahenge” continues to remain a major hurdle for mental health to be considered as seriously as other chronic illnesses like heart diseases and cancer.
Manoj Chandran, CEO of White Swan Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that offers knowledge and services in the area of mental health, says that we carry a lot of preconceived notions about mental health. “We are all experts when it comes to mental health,” he tells me, adding, “and most of it is flawed. If I have pain in my chest, I do not Google about it. Instead, I seek professional help.
So why is it that when it comes to mental health we shy away from seeing an expert and would rather seek help on the internet,” he asks, making a point.
Manoj feels that the word ‘depression’ has become so normalised that even in an urban, youth-centric setting where it is okay to talk about mental health, “we are not discussing it in the context of what we know, but rather saying ‘Oh! you have depression, maybe I have too’.”