END THE STIGMA: Mental Healthiness for not-just-Tech/Startup Culture

As part of The HabitAware mission to end the stigma around body focused repetitive behaviors (bfrbs like hair pulling / trichotillomania, skin picking / dermatillomania, nail biting / onycophagia), our team coordinates events to share our first hand experience, build understanding around mental health issues & raise donations for TLC Foundation for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors. 

On Friday 10/13/2017, our cofounder, Aneela, along with Thomas Knoll, Dana Severson & Kimberly Knoll spoke at Twin Cities Startup Week 2017, Health Track event sponsored by Healthcare.MN

The event, "End the Stigma: Mental Healthiness for not-just-Tech/Startup Culture" was widely attended by Minneapolis+St. Paul residents in the tech industry, and had a focus on the impact mental health has on entrepreneurship and vice versa. Although the talk was tailored to this group, I believe anyone with an interest in their mental health will benefit from the information below! 

At this event, we shared our experience with mental health issues and how they link to startups / tech culture. As a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT), Kim also walked our audience through an amazing emotional regulation exercise that attendees now have in their toolkit.

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Entrepreneurship & Mental Illness: Lonely Together

The lifestyle of being an entrepreneur is a bit manic. From ideation to exit, there are so many highs and lows on the journey to starting a company.

While there is likely a genetic pre-disposition to mental health disorders, it’s also likely that those same folks are “wired” for entrepreneurship given their high tolerance for risk-taking & dysfunction (link to article on this) . As Steve Jobs once said:

In our talk, Dana shared how he developed anxiety in college, particularly a fear of flying. But, years later, he was an entrepreneur in a premiere accelerator program, which required flying to San Francisco on a weekly basis.

Although he is now quite outspoken about his mental health afflictions, Dana understands that many entrepreneurs don't want to talk about their conditions. He created Startups Anonymous as an online safe haven where founders could talk openly about their struggles and failures under anonymity.

Why do entrepreneurs feel the need to hide their mental health conditions? Because of the stigma associated with them. The fear is that acknowledging your mental health condition shows weakness & can seed doubt as to your ability for a potential investor, or client.

Let's face it, no one wants to be seen as "flawed."

It is only by talking about our conditions that we will shift this perception & stereotype. The reality is that there are many high-functioning, successful people out there, who just happen to also have mental health conditions.

Should you Advise the Startup or the Entrepreneur?

Much is written about developing a company, but what about developing the founder, the maker, the hacker, the doer?

Happiness does not equal success

That's just what Thomas & Kim do. Their coaching develops the founder as an executive and productive member of society. After both having worked at startups and mentored top tier accelerator programs, like 500 Startups + Techstars, Thomas & Kim recognized a gap in the advisory industry for startups. They spent time in Vegas, where they saw firsthand how a fanatical focus on happiness winds up destroying any chance at being happy and have unfortunately lost more than 1 founder-friend to suicide. Now they hope to help Twin Cities entrepreneurs develop the skills needed to stay financially healthy AND mentally healthy.

As a licensed marriage & family therapist, Kim shared some very important statistics and insights. According to the CDC almost 90% of entrepreneurs will develop anxiety or depression at some point in their career. Their loneliness drives their mental illness. The business world is wrought with frustration, sadness & pain. And often times, it's difficult to share this with friends. Firstly, they just may not understand (esp. if they are not entrepreneurs themselves). Secondly, fear & shame hold people back.

Startup culture dictates that you must always be "killing it!" So most put on this facade because of the gap between perceived reality vs. true reality. An entrepreneur may wonder, "Why is everyone else doing amazing?...I can't let it out that I am not." And in doing so, that entrepreneur will decide to withdraw and hide out of shame. Much like a person with trichotillomania may hide their hair pulling secret.

Emotional Regulation for Business Regulation

Entrepreneurs are supposed to be business savvy & rationale decision makers. For most people, the instinct is to avoid, or push down negative emotions like stress, fear, sadness or frustration. But the best way to overcome a "negative" feeling is to allow the feeling to occur - to acknowledge it, identify it, and FEEL it, without judgement.

Daily life of a entrepreneur is riddled with "fire drills." The knee-jerk reaction is to alleviate the anxiety or fear brought on by these "fire drills" by dealing with the issue immediately. And when you put out that fire, it's quite a rush! So you continue to feed into the cycle and suddenly, your whole day is filled with fire drills.

As Kim pointed out, no decision is made without emotion. So we need to learn to regulate those emotions! This means training ourselves to be aware of when our emotions are getting uncontrolled. Then one must take stock of what is really going on. What are you really feeling - and where in the body is it manifesting? 

Deep breathing is an important tool to help calm the body, mind & soul. Kim recommends breathing in deeply for 4 seconds and breathing out for 8 seconds. My personal favorite is thinking of it as smelling a hot, delicious slice of pizza (breathing in) and then blowing out birthday candles (breathing out). Thomas referenced the ever-helpful Daniel Tiger in learning how to take control of your emotions:

Kim also took us all through a mindfulness exercise.

Here are a few other key takeaways from the session:

  • Secrets make you sick
  • If your company is everything to you & you are needed to run your company, then your mental health is the most important thing of all!

It's OK to say that things are not OK!

Whether you are a founder or not, if you find yourself in a negative headspace, there is help and it is OK to seek it out. Here’s a quick primer on some of the more common mental health disorders:

WHAT IS TRICHOTILLOMANIA? WHAT IS DERMATILLOMANIA? WHAT ARE BFRBS? 

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) are the most common disorder you've never heard of. These issues are related to excessive self-grooming, anxiety management, or sensory stimulation. The most common BFRBs are trichotillomania (hair pulling), dermatillomania (skin picking), onychophagia (nail biting), dermatophagia (skin biting), rhinotillexomania (nose picking), as well as cheek biting and joint cracking. These behaviors tend to be chronic, and those who have them report feeling pleasure and/or pain from these habits. Although many people with BFRBs want to stop these behaviors, they are compelled to perform the behavior. Many hide the behaviors out of shame and embarrassment.

Additionally, many sufferers are not aware of them. Keen by HabitAware is a smart bracelet that uses custom gesture detection to help sufferers built their awareness and over time empowers them to take control of these behaviors.

WHAT IS TRICHOTILLOMANIA? WHAT IS DERMATILLOMANIA? WHAT ARE BFRBS? 

Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) are the most common disorder you've never heard of. These issues are related to excessive self-grooming, anxiety management, or sensory stimulation. The most common BFRBs are trichotillomania (hair pulling), dermatillomania (skin picking), onychophagia (nail biting), dermatophagia (skin biting), rhinotillexomania (nose picking), as well as cheek biting and joint cracking. These behaviors tend to be chronic, and those who have them report feeling pleasure and/or pain from these habits. Although many people with BFRBs want to stop these behaviors, they are compelled to perform the behavior. Many hide the behaviors out of shame and embarrassment.

Additionally, many sufferers are not aware of them. Keen by HabitAware is a smart bracelet that uses custom gesture detection to help sufferers built their awareness and over time empowers them to take control of these behaviors.

 
 

Resources:

TLC Foundation for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors

Canadian BFRB Support Network

PickingMe Foundation

WHAT IS OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can cause life disrupting anxiety. Everyone has intrusive thoughts sometimes, but when you have OCD it is invasive and won't go away. Examples include excessive concerns with right and wrong, fear of harming others, perfectionism, and contamination. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors of thoughts used to get rid of an obsession. The more you engage in a compulsion, the worse and stronger the obsession gets. People with OCD feel the need to engage in compulsions in order to get rid of the obsessive thoughts and the accompanying paralyzing and life disrupting anxiety they're experiencing. Examples of compulsions include mental reviewing, seeking assurance checking.

Resources:

International OCD Foundation

The OCD Stories Podcast

WHAT ARE ANXIETY + DEPRESSION?

"Anxiety disorders are characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences." (Source)

"Depression is a condition in which a person feels discouraged, sad, hopeless, unmotivated, or disinterested in life in general for more than two weeks and when the feelings interfere with daily activities. Major depression is a treatable illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves, and functions. At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of people suffer from major depression; the lifetime risk is about 17 percent." (Source)

Resources:

Anxiety & Depression Association of America

Anxiety in Teens

WHAT IS ADHD/ADD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. They are commonly used to reference the same condition.

The three main symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivityimpulsivity and inattention. All of these impact behavior, mood and thinking. That’s why ADHD meets the criteria for mental illness.

Resources:

ADDitude

General Mental Health Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 

Mental Health in the Tech Community:

Open Source Mental Illness (OSMI)

Local Therapists, specializing in the mental health needs for entrepreneurs:

The power of music:

Lastly, I leave you with this: Music has the ability to empower sufferers and break down stigma. Infusing the mental health conversation into pop culture is a crucial part of making progress. 

Logic ft. Alessia Cara and Khalid perform "1-800-273-8255" at the 2017 MTV VMAs. 

Be "alive today."

with love & awareness,

Aneela

 

 

 

PLEASE REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

DO NOT WAIT TO SEEK HELP.

PREVENTATIVE CARE IS THE BEST CARE.


About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

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