Startup Founders & Suicide Risk: 4 Warning Signs & How You Can Support


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While passion for building a company may be intrinsically rewarding, there's also a potential downside. It’s crucial for entrepreneurs to discover a way to balance their passions with the necessities of life such as healthy relationships, self-care routines, therapy, and more. Many times the absence of the value that these components bring into our life can leave an entrepreneur to their own devices “consumed by the hustle”.


Entrepreneurs are susceptible to serious mental health conditions if left unacknowledged and untreated. As an entrepreneur you are constantly faced with several demands (scaling, numbers, etc), commitments (delivery), and societal pressures (competition); not to mention the added responsibilities of being a parent, spouse, parental caretaker, and more. Carrying such a heavy workload can lead even the savviest CEO into a realm of stress, from which it's all too easy to overstep into depression and, in worse situations—suicide.

Unfortunately, as much as we have “evolved” as a society there’s still a fog-filled stigma around being open about the state of our mental health which ultimately discourages the ability to get help. Thankfully, there are warning signs to notice, and there are ways that we all can help.


1. Obsession and Impulsivity

Some entrepreneurs, because of their passion, can fall into obsession. This obsession can lead them to become workaholics and can, if not careful, fall into various other addictions such as substance abuse or various other forms of escapism. Often, entrepreneurs cannot see this condition because they're too close to it, so they miss the signs. However, their support system can help bring this behavior to light. As a founder, you might need to hear this a few times before it clicks. But if you find your relationship and your health begins to suffer, it's time to make some changes.


2. Over Identification

Startup founders put a lot of their time and money into their businesses, which can be a very challenging test of self-worth. Everything feels like it's on the line and you might begin to question your worth based on the performance of the business.

With the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, over-identification with the ego can deteriorate your sense of self and ultimately fall into the hands of self-destructive behaviors. As a founder, think of entering your business with a healthy mindset of “me first”. This will help you to remember to take the space you need when you’re feeling overwhelmed, to call on your tribe, to take a vacation when you need it most, for instance, to ensure you’re taking care of yourself.


3. Severe Isolation

Social isolation is a risk factor for suicide, and it's also something that entrepreneurs frequently report. This might seem surprising, considering the number of people entrepreneurs interact with daily. It's even worse to feel isolated when there are several people surrounding them day in and day out. There’s this feeling as if ‘no one understands. If you're in this position and struggling with depression, don't suffer alone, find your support immediately. If you notice this isolation, as a supporter, reach out and check-in. Be the presence or trusted confidant they may need. Regular check-ins can potentially save a life.


4. Feeling Trapped

Some entrepreneurs feel trapped because there's so much financial and emotional investment in their businesses, their team, staff, family, and investors are counting on them. Feeling trapped is a critical element of individuals that are contemplating suicide. When you feel trapped and have difficulties recognizing a way out, it's time to take a break. It's time to restructure your company so you can breathe and get back to that healthy separation of “me first”.


To support an entrepreneur, notice the language they're using and notice when the things they used to have a 'handle' on can no longer be managed. You might offer to take something off their plate or encourage them to take a break or temporarily step down in order for them to reconnect.


These entrepreneurs took their own lives:

  • Titi Branch Co-Founder Miss Jessie

  • Don Cornelius Founder of Soul Train

  • Faigy Mayer, CEO of Appton

  • Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics

  • Jody Sherman of Ecomon

  • Aaron Schwartz of Reddit

  • Ovik Banarjee, also of Reddit

  • Ilya Zhiitomirskly of Diaspora

  • Kate Spade of the Kate Spade Handbags

  • Anthony Bourdain, Celebrity Chef

As a supporter, let’s do our part to help prevent another name from being added to this list. You don't have to be a professional. You only need to be a compassionate friend and an active presence in someone's life. Let’s dispel this stigma of “we must be strong” or “I got this” and let’s begin to create an atmosphere where being vulnerable is our superpower. Please use this list of resources to get started.


(For help, information and advice, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)


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