The Mental Health Crisis in Entrepreneurship: Let’s Talk…About Startup Founders

Entrepreneurs are 50% more likely to develop mental health problems than the general population. Here are the stats and solutions.

January 29, 2020

As you read this, 1 in 5 Canadians—or 6.7 million of us—are struggling with mental health.  

To put that into perspective, 2.2 million Canadians have type 2 diabetes.  

By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have, or have had, a mental illness.

But if you’re the founder of a startup, the odds are stacked even higher against you when it comes to mental health.

The Great Cost of Poor Mental Health

The Government of Canada states that we lose an average of more than 10 Canadians a day due to suicide. For every person lost to suicide, many more experience thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. For every death by suicide, at least seven to 10 survivors are significantly affected by the loss.

Suicide is a leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24, second only to accidents. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental health illness or disorder—the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.

But the cost is even greater than far too many lives tormented, disrupted and lost.

In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems.

The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is an estimated $51 billion per year, including health care costs and lost productivity. Over the next 30 years, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) estimates that the total cost of mental health difficulties to the Canadian economy will be at a culminative $2.5 trillion.  

You read that right. Trillion.

“If we just reduce the number of people experiencing new mental health illness in a given year by 10%, something that is very feasible in many illnesses among young people, after 10 years we could be saving the economy at least $4 billion a year,” says the MHCC in its Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health in Canada report.

So, where do we go from here? How do we help our country and workers thrive?

 

The Waiting Game

Meet Radwan Al-Nachawati. His story is all-too familiar.

“Mental health was something that was never discussed in my community. I wasn’t really aware of it growing up, beyond the stigma that surrounded admitting that you were struggling or going to therapy,” he explains.

Undergraduate studies are a difficult, trying time for all young adults. But this is especially true for those struggling with mental health. When Radwan was in university, he started to feel it. A dark, heavy feeling that consumed him.

“I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. It was a really, really difficult time,” he recalls.

At the time it was difficult to admit, but Radwan knew he needed help. So he sought it. After being diagnosed with major depression and severe anxiety, he felt a massive sense of relief knowing that he wasn’t foolish, he was sick. And now he had a name for what he was feeling.

Radwan’s relief was quickly diluted by frustration when he tried to treat his depression and anxiety; he could get help, sure, but it would take time. Half a year, to be exact.

CMHA reports that some Canadians are forced to wait a year or longer for any kind of mental health treatment; one-third of those did not receive adequate assistance, if they received any at all. The Canadian Mental Health Association also states that 55% of family doctors ranked access to psychiatrists from fair to poor. Yikes.

Clearly, things need to change.

Radwan thought so, too, leading the entrepreneur to co-found the award-winning platform LinkMentalHealth.

Revolutionizing Mental Health Care

“Navigating the healthcare system is difficult. I remember thinking it shouldn’t be this hard to get help,” Radwan explains.  

As we know, necessity is the mother of invention. The recent grad got to work, making mental health resources as accessible as possible for his peers.

LinkMentalHealth initially launched as a navigational portal to help postsecondary students understand which supports are available to them through their student insurance. It has since grown for corporate functionality as well, enabling employees to easily access the mental health care services that are available to them thanks to their employer, benefits, insurance, and more. Throughout every stage, the user journey has always been top-of-mind.

Users can see which therapy options are available to them free-of-charge (or at a low fee) with their insurance and/or benefits, and are matched with healthcare professionals based on a number of important factors.

“My lived experience as an Arab man is totally different from the lived experience of a black woman. It’s critical to acknowledge the uniqueness of each person’s journey to be able to provide solutions that incorporate each element of that individual’s life. You will find therapy tremendously more helpful if the person treating you is cognisant of the elements in your life that have uniquely shaped you to become the person that you are. Sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race…they all should be considered when treating a person as a whole to best understand them,” Radwan says.

“Culture plays out in the conversation of stigma. Minority communities are less likely to have a family doctor, which means they are less likely to get mental health support. I always challenge myself to think: How can we make this a fair system that looks out for people from diverse backgrounds?”

By integrating different aspects of mental health care to fill the gaps that exist for a more comprehensive solution, the platform makes each user’s experience individualized to their unique needs. The portal is a gamechanger for employees and employers alike, significantly reducing the cost of absenteeism.

“One dollar spent on mental health services yields a return of up to four dollars,” Radwan explains. “I enjoy working with employers to provide their employees with the services that will be tremendously beneficial to them. It’s a really good feeling, and is an absolute win for everyone.”

A Passionate Calling, A Dedicated Team

When speaking with Radwan, it’s immediately evident that he is incredibly sincere in the passion he has for LinkMentalHealth.

“It’s still unfathomable to me how hard it is to navigate the system to get help,” he says. “It’s set up in such a way that makes it difficult for anyone to find fitting supports, let alone people who are in dire need of them. Think about who it is that really needs help. I’ve been there. You feel hopeless as is, and trying to navigate a complex system unnecessarily heightens that hopeless feeling. It’s exploiting people who struggle with mental health, and that’s not okay. I made LinkMentalHealth because, honestly, it always should have existed.”

Thousands of people feel the same way, including Radwan’s teammates.

“My team is a passionate one on so many levels. We all genuinely really care about what we’re doing, because it’s important. Every single one of us has been impacted by mental health. It matters. We really want to reduce the number of lives lost by suicide,” he shares.

“At the end of the day, impact—and impact in the right way—is in our DNA. Our focus is to get this platform out there to as many people as we can. It’s extremely simple to implement and we work hard to reduce any barriers that might stop a company from adapting it.”

LinkMentalHealth is a current AC JumpStart client.

“The Accelerator Centre has been incredibly helpful in growing LinkMentalHealth,” Radwan beams. “It’s not just about the seed funding, but more so the mentorship. Having specialized mentors in so many business areas is amazing; startups by nature are limited in their ability to find business experts, making the AC’s mentorship model wildly important to us. I’ve been a part of many accelerators and I can tell you, none of them are like the AC. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in this past year, and it’s largely due to the support that the AC has given us.”

Since launching in 2018, LinkMentalHealth has connected over 1500 people to its services, with repeat visit numbers that are far above industry standard.

Radwan recently travelled to Mexico where he was awarded with the 9th Annual CEMEX-Tec Award, honouring LinkMentalHealth for developing a high calibre, impactful proposal and for implementing a progressive project in social entrepreneurship. One thing is clear: The world is watching, and it’s impressed.

 The Mental Health Crisis Facing Startups

At the Accelerator Centre, we are ultra aware of the unique challenges that starting, launching, building, and scaling a company brings.

We encourage our clients to meet regularly with our amazing HR, Leadership and Culture Mentor, Jackie Lauer, and have built a workplace culture that recognizes and prioritizes mental health via personal days, flexibility in work locations, wellness credits, the Employee Assistance Program, and Awesome Awards (where we acknowledge the hard work and, well, awesomeness, of our colleagues). Beyond creating a fun, safe and healthy atmosphere for staff, we hope that our highly-placed value on mental health is passed on to our client companies as well.

Here’s why:

A study by University of San Francisco researcher Michael Freeman focuses on the mental health crisis that is rampant among entrepreneurs.

Half of startup founders will suffer from at least one form of a mental health condition during their life. Half. Founders are also:

 2x more likely to have depression
6x more likely to have ADHD
3x more likely to face substance abuse
10x more likely to have bi-polar disorder
2x more likely to have psychiatric hospitalization
2x more likely to have suicidal thoughts

The World Economic Forum lists “destigmatisation”  as the #1 step of its action plan to help the world’s founders’ mental health, with #2 being “wellbeing resources.”

Radwan totally agrees.

“It’s a challenge for sure,” he admits. “I know that mental health is a serious struggle for the majority of founders. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk have done wonders in the conversation in changing how we talk about mental health. When I think back to five years ago, it was a different world. Now and moving forward, I want the scope to change. I don’t think seeking treatment, for instance, is as normalized as it should be.

Society accepts that we have to get checkups for physical health. We screen for ailments and we are as preventative as we can be. Why don’t we do that for mental health? That’s the change that I think is coming: proactive mental health care.”

And as far as wellbeing resources go, we have a fantastic one to recommend. You guessed it! LinkMentalHealth.  

“I want everyone in Canada to be fully aware of the resources that are available to them at no or little cost. Let’s start proactively addressing mental health. There is no reason to wait until it's an absolute need. But when it is an absolute need, I cannot convey enough that nothing is hopeless. Canadians have a ton of mental health care options. Our solution sheds light on that.”

 

Get in Touch

Learn more about LinkMentalHealth by visiting its

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

LinkedIn

If you’d like to connect with Radwan, you can email him at radwan@linkmentalhealth.com.

 

“LinkMentalHealth connects people to mental health services regardless of what they can afford. We have a vision to make mental health support accessible to everyone who needs or wants it. We are starting with the 4.75 million Canadians who are struggling with a mental health condition but not getting the help they need.” -linkmentalhealth.com

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