There’s a narrative that entrepreneurs are people who get to live the dream. According to a report by GEM SA, 82% of South Africans surveyed deem entrepreneurship to be a high-status career. Entrepreneurs are seen as the strong, brave, and lucky ones who get to do and have it all. They’re always on the go, moving interchangeably from emails and video calls to dinner meetings, catching flights for business trips and managing to fit in a picture on the beach captioned “Office for the day.” They seem to never stop. Although the optimistic sentiment toward entrepreneurship can be a positive thing, the glamourisation of entrepreneurship has in some ways developed an almost superhuman complex which has created an unrealistic, heavy burden for entrepreneurs to carry emotionally.
Given that 72% of entrepreneurs are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues compared to just 48% of non-entrepreneurs, it is clear that a common problem exists and that those affected, are struggling in silence and isolation sadly.
As we begin to find comfort in the new normal working world, what’s become increasingly clear for society as a whole, is that it is not business as usual. Under normal conditions, the thrill of the unknown is an incredible driver to succeed for the entrepreneur but compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent pressures on small businesses brought on by exceptionally constrained working and financial conditions over the last two years, South African entrepreneurs are bearing a huge load of stress and anxiety on their shoulders.
Many consider stress as a normal part of the journey but grinding over long periods without any time for self-care, rest and recovery can lead to more serious issues such as burnout, anxiety, and depression. The lonely road of an entrepreneur is filled with ups and downs and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, loneliness, and isolation can quickly creep up, often masked under the guise of a smile or strong outlook.
In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group reported received an average of 23 suicide calls per day. In September 2021, that number had increased to 2200 calls per day. In Africa, the third-highest suicide rate on the continent was recorded in South Africa. The situation is real and alarming.
It is critical that we begin to normalise talking about mental health and create platforms and opportunities for people to feel safe to say, “I’m not okay and I need support.” Sadly, due to a limited number of avenues or access to outlets, entrepreneurs often suffer in silence for fear of judgement. Social media exacerbates these feelings of loneliness especially when scrolling past a post of how fellow peers may be winning at the hustle.
We’ve taken a closer look at how we can support our SMMEs holistically. For the last four weeks, we’ve dedicated our online content to addressing the known but largely unspoken topic of Mental Health and the realities as it pertains to Entrepreneurs. We hosted our monthly Conversations To Innovate IG Live: Being Strong Also Needs Support, with the aim of bringing awareness to the subject and in hearing some SMMEs share their stories, we hope that anyone who watched it felt safe and empowered to do the same. If you missed it, visit our Instagram feed to watch at your leisure.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, know that it is okay to ask for help. Visit the following sites for further support: