Ryerson puts spotlight on rampant mental health challenges facing entrepreneurs

Studies have found that entrepreneurs experience significantly higher rates of mental health issues compared to the general population.

72% of entrepreneurs reported mental health concerns, according to recent study

Business incubator DMZ partnered with local startup WellCalm to offer a workshop and free massages to stressed-out entrepreneurs. (Paul Smith/CBC)

A business incubator at Ryerson University is trying to tackle rampant mental health issues in the entrepreneurial and technology sectors.

On Wednesday, tech accelerator DMZ partnered with the mental health startup WellCalm to host a mental wellness workshop and provide complimentary massages.

Entrepreneur and DMZ content creator Takara Small says it's a critical need in an industry that often includes long hours and massive pressure to succeed.

"That's a lot of stress on one person, and we don't always like to talk about it," said Small, an employee with DMZ.

Small says she's felt the full force of those pressures as a co-founder of Venture Kids, a non-profit startup that teaches coding and business to young people from under-served communities.

DMZ executive director Abdullah Snobar says there is a stigma around mental health in the pressure-packed entrepreneurial world. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Small's mother died shortly after Mother's Day, just over a month before Venture Kids was set to make its official launch.

She described the past few weeks as an "emotionally turbulent time" during which she relinquished many of her usual duties. It wasn't an easy adjustment to make.

"For a very long time, I would take on the responsibilities for everything that had to do with the startup," Small, 30, said. "There's no shame in relying on other people to help fulfil the tasks that you normally would."

High rate of mental health issues

In 2015, researchers at the University of California published a study that found 72 per cent of entrepreneurs self-reported mental health concerns. That figure was described as "significantly higher" than non-entrepreneurs.

"There's not necessarily an understanding of work-life balance," said Abdullah Snobar, executive director of DMZ.

Small believes those mental health concerns are exacerbated by the often solitary work in the early stages of entrepreneurship.

Money can also be tight during those early years, she said, meaning many tech entrepreneurs don't have access to professional mental health services.

While Snobar acknowledged that it may not be possible to totally eliminate the long hours and pressure of startup culture — the "nature of the beast," he called it — he said a larger conversation about those challenges is key.

He says that shift is now taking place.

"It's becoming more open and more accepted to talk about at this point," Snobar said.

In Small's experience, that focus on mental health is not only good for personal well-being, but a company's bottom line too.

She's calling on workplaces, universities and government to help ensure people in her field have adequate access to help.

"We have to make sure we give entrepreneurs, peers, people they work with, the support they need," she said.