Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Depression - the hidden curse of the entrepreneur

We don't like to talk about it, but it's a fact of life for many hard-driving entrepreneurs. Depression - the edge of darkness, the bane of the bold and restless. It strikes hard, fast and deep, and no one's immune.

Can't happen to you, you say? Think again. The very traits of entrepreneurial success - drive, ambition, creativity, independence and a zest for change - can easily set you up for failure. And what surprises most experts and lay people alike is that few entrepreneurs recognize depression, or even admit to having it. Even fewer will talk about it because of the stigma attached to mental disorders.

Depression is a debilitating mood disorder. It affects our sleep, eating habits, energy level and the ability to concentrate or make decisions. But it doesn't have to be that way. Nine out of every ten of us who get it, whether in mild or severe form, can beat it. Sure, you can be depressed if your best friend dies. But if you get depressed when you lose a potential sale, or one of your grand plans doesn't work out, you need some help - self-help, if you're strong enough, someone else's help if you aren't.

Depression is more normal than most people realize. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in ten Canadians will experience depression at some point in their lives. And women are twice as vulnerable to it than men. We're not talking about getting "the blues", once in a while. Depression is worse - it's a black mood that is intense and long-lasting, often resulting in uncontrollable sadness, a sense of worthlessness, and a loss of interest in pleasure and normal activities.

Research has shown that depression is associated with abnormally low levels of the brain's neuro-transmitters - serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine, among others. Those naturally-occuring chemicals can easily get burned up by entrepreneurs who tend to overwork and isolate themselves, and the condition becomes exacerbated by the entrepreneurial personality, itself, which often refuses to acknowledge personal problems, let alone seek help for them.

The very existence of an entrepreneur depends on a healthy mental attitude. It takes a healthy mental attitude to be driven, creative and independent, to face the stresses of banking, human resources, sales, and business transitions, but while those personality traits serve entrepreneurs well, they can also create problems in the long run.

Yet, even in the 21st century, those who ask for psychological help are stigmatized. But by seeking help, you can stop being a victim of your own making. Finding the proper treatment, though, can be a long process. Sure, there are many drugs available, but finding the right one can be tricky - they can cause blurred vision, dry mouth, loss of sexual drive, and unsteadiness. Don't expect a "quick fix", either. Changing your mindset, getting some balance in your life, and taking proper vacations to separate yourself from your work is not an overnight chore, but according to experts, 90% of depression sufferers can be successfully treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medications.

It's important to distinguish between pathological depression and the occasional and fleeting sensation of the blues, which everyone experiences from time to time. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, you're depressed if you experience a down mood and/or a loss of interest in regular activities, paired with the daily occurrence, during a two-week period, of four of the following symptoms (if this sounds like you or a colleague, consult a doctor):

* loss of interest in usual activities and/or inability to experience pleasure
* change in sleeping habits
* lack of energy or extreme fatigue
* psychomotor retardation or agitation
* drastic changes in eating habits
* suicidal ideas of preoccupation with death
feelings of worthlessness and/or excessive or inappropriate guilt
loss of concentration

For more information about mental health issues and depression, check out these online sources:

Canadian Mental Health Association, at
McMaster University's Depression & Anxiety Information Resource & Education Centre at
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario at

Lorne Peasland, is a former advertising agency owner and national media consultant, the founder and past-president of the Canadian Home & Micro Business Federation, and author of "Influencing Public Opinion - A Communications
Primer For Political Candidates, Community Activists, and Special Interest Group Spokespeople" (ISBN 0-9697364-0-1). He is a home-based marketing consultant, writer and speaker, and publisher of HomeBizNews, a syndicated web-based weekly for home-based and small-office entrepreneurs. He can be contacted through either of
his web pages at or, via
e-mail at, or by phone at 250-708-0250.

For more information about antidepressants and pain, visit

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