Monica Watrous 2019KANSAS CITY — A staggering 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues compared to (a still high) 48% of non-entrepreneurs, according to University of California researchers.

The study revealed founders are twice as likely to suffer from depression, three times more likely to struggle with substance abuse, and 10 times more likely to have bipolar disorder than the general population. Some of the very traits often celebrated in innovators — creative, motivated, risk-taking — are linked to characteristics of depression, anxiety, mood disorders and substance abuse.

Add to that the emotional and financial burden of launching a business and the numerous inevitable setbacks and rejections founders encounter along the way, plus an all-consuming grind that leaves little time for self-care and supportive relationships.

“Being an entrepreneur is absolutely an emotional rollercoaster,” said Kelsey Moreira, founder of ready-to-eat cookie dough brand Doughp, based in Las Vegas. “The highs are so high, but the lows can be so low. You become intimately tied to the business; the ebb and flow of sales during slow times can cause physical nausea at times.”

Ms. Moreira’s addiction recovery story is intertwined with her business. She launched the company as a platform to address the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and addiction. Through the #Doughp4Hope initiative, the company has donated more than $20,000 in proceeds from sales to provide mental health care to those in need. On social media, the brand shares “unfiltered conversation” and weekly Mental Health Monday posts to shine a brighter light on the topic.

Mental health is critical for decision making, productivity, leadership and workplace culture. So, why does it still feel so taboo to talk about it?

“For me, running a business channels my energy into something positive,” she said. “With #Doughp4Hope, I built a business that gives back, and that’s been good for the mental health community and my own mental health. I keep customer emails to re-read when I have a hard day; they serve as a reminder of why I’m doing what I’m doing, real lives that I’ve impacted positively as a result of Doughp.”

Entrepreneurs face enormous internal and external pressure to succeed. Business failures may often translate to personal failures. And an already lonely journey for solo founders has been made more isolating by the pandemic.

“I fully believe entrepreneurs are more vulnerable to mental health issues,” said Erica Rankin, founder of Bro Dough, Ottawa, Ont. “Me, personally, I run a company by myself and am not really surrounded by a lot of people who are also entrepreneurs where I live. My inner circle, my friends and family, they’re not entrepreneurs.”

Over the past year, Ms. Rankin has built a virtual support system on LinkedIn of fellow consumer packaged goods entrepreneurs who share similar struggles and experiences.

“This platform was able to provide me with a support system I so desperately needed,” Ms. Rankin said. “I can’t express the importance of having a solid support system in place. I went eight months into my business without having this, and it was really hard for me. There were some days that I didn’t even want to get out of bed.”

Mental health is critical for decision making, productivity, leadership and workplace culture. So, why does it still feel so taboo to talk about it?

More voices are needed on the topic of mental health issues, particularly among the startup community. Public struggles in other sectors, including the recent death of Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, amplify the urgent need for honest and compassionate dialogue.

“It’s so important that we become more open and transparent about founder mental health,” Ms. Moreira said. “There has to be a louder conversation around mental health that specifically considers the lifestyle and requirements of being an entrepreneur.”

Help is available for those who are struggling. Text “HELLO” to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Find more resources at the National Institute of Mental Health website at

This commentary was featured in the March 2 edition of Food Entrepreneur. Read the full issue here