Tackling Depression: The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship 

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By Groundswell Social Ventures cohort member, Dave Ives

As a proud participant of Groundswell’s current ‘Cohort 7’, instructor Gilad Babchuk has recently set us the task of clarifying the purpose of our proposed social venture. My first sentence reads, ‘I believe that NO ONE should have to feel trapped (in depression) by their mental state’. However, upon researching this area I discovered that; as an attempting entrepreneur; I am actually placing myself in the path of depression, which has prompted me to write this blog.

Depression is expected to be the leading global burden of disease by 2030 (according to the World Health Organization). It is no real surprise that those who embark on the emotional roller coaster of the ‘startup’ are probably going to come face to face with depression at some stage of their journey.

Tim Sae Koo, 27, started Tint, a San Francisco social discovery site, and is now its CEO. He writes, “For many, depression can strike at any moment, even when times seem good.” Despite seeking the healthy balance of exercise, social events, even casual conversations with colleagues—he viewed them all as mere distractions. Then one day he overheard coworkers swapping funny stories from the weekend. He was struck by a “feeling of sorrow.” His life felt so small. In 2013, when Tint hit its goal of becoming profitable, he felt emptiness rather than elation. “I realized, no one else really cares,” he says. “What am I doing all this for?”

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Brad Feld, 51, a prominent figure in the startup community, is no stranger to depression. He decided to write about his struggle and published it online. Feld was shocked by the responses that flooded in. He says, “A number of entrepreneurs and investors whose names you’d recognize, many of them very successful, reached out one-on-one,” Some people told him it was the first time they had discussed their experiences.

What can we learn as entrepreneurs or those attempting new social ventures? I have 3 thoughts:

  1. Don’t be surprised when you come face to face with depression. Acknowledging it is important. There doesn’t have to be a stigma attached to mental illness. The more I learn about depression, the more I am coming to the conclusion that everyone experiences it at some stage in their life (meaning those who say they’ve never been depressed are either lying or just unaware!).

  2. Know WHY you are doing what you are doing, right from the start. A startup that lacks purpose can create a breeding ground for depression. As Tim found out, even though his business was making a profit, he had lost his sense of purpose. The ‘why’ may even evolve with the business; remember to keep track of it and keep true to it.

  3. Don’t struggle in silence. Depression will have a field day in your mind if you let it. We live in a ‘self-help’ era where we are told we can be Lone Rangers, tackling our problems alone and taking all the credit. Brad discovered that in being open about his struggle, there were many others who could relate to him. Depression can be a slippery slope and sharing with others can sometimes be a key factor in climbing, or being pulled, back out of it.

I don’t exactly know how I intend to tackle depression in Vancouver, I certainly don’t profess to have any grand solutions; but knowing that I am putting myself in the path of depression, is not going to ‘put me off’ my purpose of helping others who are suffering with it. If anything, this startup journey I have embarked on, will help me to more deeply appreciate the challenges and trials that can lead to depression. More than ever, I am thankful for communities like Groundswell and Trinity Central where friends can stand together; even in the dark tunnel of depression, reminding those who have lost sight of it, that there is light at the end.