What Is Founder Depression? by Dr. Stephen Dansiger


Dr. Stephen Dansiger: For some people with
startups, it’s a very small team or like a team of one. And so there is this Me or Us-Against-The-World
aspect… The way I understand founder depression is
that it doesn’t matter whether we are dealing with success or failure. It’s almost like postpartum depression. A founder of this startup has this birthing
experience and this experience of…most startup people…founders of businesses go through
(sometimes it’s not even a phase) but all of them will go through a phase of like 12,
14, 16 hour days where it’s just non-stop. So it’s just a burnout aspect to it where
it’s like…it’s just not sustainable. The human body, psyche and spirit just weren’t
made or built to go that way. And there is something that we spoke about
earlier about the loneliness, the inherent loneliness. For some people with startups it’s often
a very small team or a team of one. And so there is this Me or Us-Against-The-World
aspect that can feed sort of this feeling of otherness and feeling of isolation which
are big opportunities to develop depression. And then going through (if it’s successful)
maybe having this extra bit of loneliness at the top syndrome, combined with now everyone
around me is suspect as wanting something from me. So depression has a lot of different systems
and sometimes those symptoms include anxiety, anger (you know, quick to anger). Freud got a lot of things wrong. He got some things right. One of the things where he talked about depression
being anger turned inward. It’s not always the case, but it’s one
of the things you can see. So a founder can be in that place where in
order to be a success they had to be really aggressive. Like maybe it started with assertiveness and
it went to aggression. Or they’re angry at competitors because
they thought they were going to make 30 million and they only made 10 million. You know, whatever it is. So that’s on the success side and then it’s
a little easier to spot when it doesn’t work out. Things don’t go well and so it can be a
situational depression like “I had it all and now I have none of it.” And I’m still isolated and alone! And even if I had a team, the team has scattered
and now I’ve got to go find a job. It’s a very real thing and I think it’s
also the nature of the economy or the nature of the way people work now. There is a lot more isolation. There’s a lot more at stake. There is a lot more fast money that actually
is available for an individual or for a couple of individuals for people to stake out, often
at a young age where you may not have developed enough of the emotional coping skills to deal
with anything and everything that comes with things taking off or things tanking. So that’s my understanding of it.

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