ADHD, entrepreneurship, and mental health
Who am I? After being diagnosed with ADHD at 26, I became frustrated at the lack of support and awareness of this condition in society and in workplaces. I am trying to build Flair, the first holistic health platform for people with ADHD & other neurodiversity (because I have autism and dyslexia as well). The mission is to empower people with neurodiversity to thrive in a neurotypical world.
It’s mental health awareness week and I want to highlight the mental health crisis in founders and entrepreneurs. This topic is important for my community because of a combination of self-selecting reasons but also because of the lack of awareness and support in neurotypical workplaces. People with neurodiversity will most likely become entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism, I share some of my tips and insights into this topic.
Key points 1. There is a mental health crisis amongst founders and entrepreneurs 2. The double whammy, people with ADHD are more likely to be entrepreneurs, but ADHD also makes it challenging 3. What I struggle with as an entrepreneur with ADHD and my tips 4. An idea for a support program to support ADHD entrepreneurs — stay tuned
There is a mental health crisis among entrepreneurs and creatives In a knowledge economy, it is the entrepreneurs and the creatives with their risk-taking, out-of-the-box thinking that can disrupt old ways of working and thinking. It is vital for the knowledge economy that we support entrepreneurs, especially their mental health. Studies have shown that at least 70% of entrepreneurs report being directly affected by mental health issues. This is disproportionately high compared to the population and is truly the dark side of entrepreneurship, with suicide rates being notoriously high among entrepreneurs.
These statistics highlight the lack of mental health support for founders as being a core and crucial element to the business' success. This is something I also experienced navigating the world of accelerators. Not a single accelerator program I was on focused on mental wellbeing and how to manage this being an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is about entering a world of unpredictability and instability. So it blows my mind that upskilling a founder on how to manage their mental health and the unpredictability of running a business is not on the top agenda of accelerators.
If you have ADHD, you are more likely to be an entrepreneur Statistics back this. According to a study at UC Berkeley, 29% of the entrepreneur population reported that they had ADHD. To me, this is not surprising. Having ADHD makes it very difficult to work in workplaces without accommodations and support from your manager and coworkers. Having ADHD is seen as “dysfunctional” in workplaces. The ADHD brain is wired to want to connect the dots, see the big picture, and think outside the box. We are also impulsive and can take risks, which are traits crucial in entrepreneurship. Research has shown that what is important for someone with ADHD to perform well in entrepreneurship is passion. This passion needs to be the north star that guides us through the many twists and turns of entrepreneurship.
However, the mental toll of entrepreneurship is very real and, alongside the executive functioning difficulties that ADHD brings, this combination is highly dangerous for a founder's mental health. This is especially true for female ADHD entrepreneurs because they are 4x less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. When females eventually become founders, managing a business on top of just coping with undiagnosed ADHD can be overwhelming.
The feeling of overwhelm and paralysis is something I can attest to having experienced it myself. On the one hand, it is a blessing to have the ADHD brain that I have. I come up with so many ideas, can see the links between ideas, and when my passion for something is ignited, I can hyper-focus on it for weeks on end. But, on the negative side, the difficulties with executive functioning mean I find it difficult to organize my thoughts, plan my workload, to strategize on what is a priority and what isn’t. Burnout is also common amongst founders, but having ADHD is about having a sensitive nervous system, and this sensitivity can play out in frequent burnout and energy depletion.
ADHD coaching for entrepreneurs Having pondered on this problem, I realize the value that ADHD coaching has for founders with ADHD. ADHD coaching can help founders who lack strategies and can help them develop structures in their personal and working lives in order to help manage their energy levels and ADHD symptoms.
I’ve had people come to tell me that their ADHD makes it difficult for them to run their businesses. And having experienced the lack of support for accelerator programs for neurodiverse people, I recognize that there is indeed the need for ADHD coaching to be embedded in programs that support founders and entrepreneurs.
Let's just be clear… 1/3 of founders have ADHD. That is a high percentage and yes, they deserve to get all the help they deserve to become successful and mentally healthy founders.
I am aiming to develop the first support program for entrepreneurs with ADHD. I have a call setup with ADHD female entrepreneurs to understand their needs. But if anyone has any ideas or wants to collaborate with me on this, please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org