Mental health and entrepreneurs: what is the role of business education?
“No one said building a company is easy. But it's time to be honest about how brutal it really is -- and the price so many founders secretly pay.” Jessica Bruder
Entrepreneurship is playing an increasing role in the UK economy. The contribution made by start-up entrepreneurs to economic and social development through market innovation and the creation of new jobs is indisputable. Further, the trend of solo-entrepreneurs is rising, predicting that half of the UK’s workforce may be solo start-up by 2020. This prediction is well reflected by the trend of young people choosing a career as a solo-start-up is growing, 87% of Generation Y in UK saying they were keen to become their own bosses.
Due to the nature of an entrepreneurial career, which is high job demands and unpredictability, there is no surprise that entrepreneurs reported higher rates of depression compared to the general population, according to a study by Dr Freeman and his colleagues. Further, a recent Epson EcoTank survey reveals that working alone as solo-self-employed (or with a co-founder) can make people feel isolation and loneliness. 25% of survey respondents had experienced frequent periods of depression. Therefore, good mental health is required to cope with the nature of entrepreneurial work. Accordingly to the World Health Organisation, mental health is “a state of wellbeing, in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Without safeguarding entrepreneurs’ mental health, there is no surprise that we often see news of entrepreneurs taking their own lives.
While we do not know if depression comes before or after being an entrepreneur, the depression does exist among the current entrepreneurial workforce. Depression not only affects the entrepreneur but can significantly impact on the business. How can a business school contribute to entrepreneurial mental health?
As entrepreneurship amongst millennials is booming, entrepreneurship education is becoming a popular choice among prospectors. The curriculum often focuses on developing and enhancing entrepreneurial and creative skills, which are necessary for a successful entrepreneurial career. While programs may aim to promote the bright side of entrepreneurship, the dark side of entrepreneurship should also be highlighted. This is not to scare our future entrepreneurs, but to make them aware and be prepared for what may come. Therefore, entrepreneurship education should embed life skills such as entrepreneurial resilience, entrepreneurial stress and coping, and mental health awareness. These life skills add-ons can be non-credit bearing, but should be considered to be compulsory before graduation. Businesses schools could collaborate with health-related faculties to design, promote and deliver a course tailored to our future entrepreneurs. It is well known that healthy employees lead to increased company productivity, thus healthy and happy entrepreneurs also lead to a stronger economy.
Sukanlaya Sawang, Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of Research, International Centre for Transformational Entrepreneurship (ICTE), Coventry Business School. @drsawang