by Maria Onzain
Have you ever thought about how certain mental health disorders can benefit entrepreneurial thinking? It is widely known that some of the most successful entrepreneurs have some characteristics in common that most people lack, such as being incredibly adaptive individuals, highly creative, massively energetic, and remarkably goal-oriented. Surprisingly, these are some of the positive characteristics observed in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
A group of scientists from Stanford University and the University of California, led by Walter Jackson Freeman, researched 242 entrepreneurs and 93 demographically matched comparison participants. Their study was designed to assess their engagement in entrepreneurship, and their individual and family mental health history. They analyzed the answers, looking for similarities and differences between the two surveyed groups. The findings are astonishing.
“Self-reported mental health concerns were present across 72% of the entrepreneurs in this sample, a proportion that was significantly higher than that of the comparison group.” And when they dug into specific mental disorders, they found that the group of entrepreneurs “were significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (29%), substance use conditions (12%) and bipolar diagnosis (11%) than were comparison participants.”
Do you want to know how these conditions can help entrepreneurs thrive? Let’s find out!
1. Depression can lead to empathy and creativity
The link between depression and creativity is not something new. Since ancient times, Aristotle suggested philosophers, poets, and musicians often have a melancholic personality. Over the years, this idea has evolved, and it does not only affect artists, but also individuals in other fields, such as science or engineering.
Numerous studies analyze this relationship, to explain how depression implies deep levels of concentration in what one thinks and feels. This frame of mind leads to focus on details that disturb us. Likewise, the creation of genius work, in moments when these individuals are recovering from a depressive episode, is very common. Moreover, during the recovery time, they can be more productive, due to the shift to positive thoughts, which lead to motivation to do more creative work.
When this idea is applied to entrepreneurship, people with surprisingly creative minds are less likely to feel satisfied with the corporate ladder. And, more probable to look for self-satisfaction in a start-up or entrepreneurial project, where they can see their ideas and thoughts come to life. Depression also brings empathy. Someone who can extraordinarily empathize with others will be able to better understand and connect with a customer’s needs. So, it is possible to reshape some of the weaknesses associated with depression, to turn them into strengths for entrepreneurs.
2. The link between ADHD and entrepreneurship
As Saga Biggs explains in this article for Open Colleges, “in both children and adults, there are cognitive benefits to having ‘too much energy’ and ‘being easily distracted’.” People with ADHD are known to be always on the go. They are also more creative individuals and risk-takers. All of these are great qualities to have for entrepreneurs eager to start their own business.
People with ADHD (which was previously called ADD), have problems to concentrate, but when they find something they really love, they can focus on it for hours on end. They also have the capacity to break down complicated facts and come up with simple solutions.
Successful entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson, Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, have harnessed the advantages of their ADHD condition. And what is more, a UK study found a genetic link between a dopamine receptor gene variation associated with ADHD and the tendency to be an entrepreneur.
3. Bipolar disorder can affect entrepreneurial success
The term ‘bipolar’ implies periods of extreme highs and lows, a roller coaster ride that is very similar to an entrepreneurial experience. The big difference is that entrepreneurs choose to live these ups and downs and people in the bipolar spectrum don’t. However, they can be visionary, more innovative, charismatic, and energetic.
Several studies analyze the possible relation between those with bipolar disorder and high achievement. After working for 15 years with high achievers who have bipolar disorder, Michael Freeman conducted the exhaustive piece of research mentioned before, which is the reference for other studies conducted later on, about the relationships between certain disorders and entrepreneurial success. In his findings, Dr. Freeman explains how “the temperament and leadership styles of passionate leaders can facilitate outstanding success or predispose to catastrophic failures, depending on how they address the condition.”
How to take advantage of the ups and down
Nobody denies that having a mental disorder makes life more challenging. Even small steps, oftentimes overlooked, require more organization and willpower. While mental health can have an impact on all aspects of life, the chances of success will depend on how individuals tackle personal challenges. Finding stimulation where there is an apparent limitation will be critical.
If you have a mental disorder and you are thinking about starting your own business, you should know that you are not alone. Many entrepreneurs experience similar circumstances every day. You will have to work hard and understand your personal weaknesses and strengths, to find the way to use them to your advantage. You may also want to connect with other people who are living or have lived with similar mental health issues to you.