Understanding The Signs of Depression in Entrepreneurship
Offer support however you are best able.
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As I have personally battled depression for many years (I have bipolar disorder), my business partner has been a rock, through some of my lowest lows. Based on my own experience, I'd like to share with you some ways in which you can support a business partner (or anyone) struggling with depression:
Watch the Signs
Is your business partner acting differently? Depression can get to a point where it's hard to hide. It could mean they're showing up late for work, staying at home or avoiding sales calls. Or perhaps their typical level of productivity is down and they're less energetic and positive than your used to seeing them. Depression comes in many shapes and forms, but here are a few signs to watch for: they're tired and irritable (and they're not getting enough sleep), their eating habits have changed, they're in pain or dealing with other health issues, they're messier than usual, they're forgetful or have trouble concentrating, they act numb and, finally, the most tell-tale sign: they withdraw and isolate themselves.
In addition to watching for the signs of depression, one of the most important things you can do for your business partner is listen. I mean truly listen. Don't settle for small talk. Ask them how they're feeling. If you know they're going through a tough time with something, ask them how they're coping with managing the stresses of that specific issue. Ask open-ended questions and give them time and space to respond and share what's on their heart and mind. The depressed mind has a way of lying to itself, so don't be surprised if they don't open up the first (or second) time. Keep trying and make it known that you're there for them when they need to talk to someone who cares.
When you're depressed, you tend to look through the world through mud-stained glasses. Your perspective is off. You tell yourselves lies, like you're not good enough. You feel shame about having depression in the first place. When you're trying to help your depressed business partner, don't make it about their work. It may sound like you're attacking them from a business perspective instead of trying to relate with them on a personal level. I had a former business partner who lacked empathy for my depression. He made me feel guilty about how my depression was affecting my work instead of having empathy for me on a personal level to get to the root cause and work on real solutions.
As important as it is to be empathetic, there comes a point in time where you don't want to sugarcoat the truth. After all, you're in business together. Your business partner's mental health can have a profound impact on not only your relationship but the business you share. Don't be afraid to address the issues head-on and softly but strongly encourage they invest in getting the support they need. My business partner listens and has empathy, but he doesn't let me make excuses, either. He can openly share his concerns and advice and, whether I take it or not, it's what's needed.
Get Professional Support
Your business partner's mental health is probably the best investment that you can make for your business. They don't have to fight depression alone. Cognitive behavioral therapy, medications and more can all be used to help fight the invisible battle. Encourage your business partner to see a mental health professional who can help determine if what they're going through is a chemical imbalance and outside of their control. Additionally, there are a variety of religious and secular support groups, online and off, for those of us who struggle with depression, bipolar and other mental health issues. It starts with simply getting a referral from your general practitioner or asking around for recommendations.
Robby Berthume is CEO and co-founder of Bull & Beard.