It’s estimated that up to 70 per cent of start-up businesses fail within the first 10 years, so it’s no wonder that entrepreneurs often suffer from anxiety, stress, burnout and other mental health conditions.
It’s something business coach Ian Kinnery knows all too well – and, as he tells us during Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, is passionate about resolving.
Ian’s mental health problems led to him attempting suicide when arguably he had everything to live for: a thriving business, a happy marriage and a beautiful house.
Ian says: “I’d always seen myself as a businessman, and, rightly or wrongly, followed my father’s entrepreneurial footsteps; he died when I was 14 and I’ve been trying to live up to him ever since, making my way in the motor trade after university.
“By 1997, the stress of battling and pushing and striving led to severe mental health problems. I was obsessed with work and couldn’t let go, thinking I had to – and could – do everything myself. It came to the point where I could only see one way out.”
Ian wasn’t alone in feeling this way. A 2018 study by the NatWest Great British Entrepreneur Awards asked 100 entrepreneurs about their mental health. Of the 100 people participating, many experienced mental health issues, including anxiety (21 per cent), depression (19 per cent) and stress (41 per cent). What’s more, 55 per cent of respondents said that running a business had a negative impact on their mental health.
Meanwhile, in the North as a whole, we have the third-highest rate of common mental health problems for adults in the country, a high incidence of severe mental health conditions and the highest rates of adolescent self-harm. The region also has the highest levels of alcohol use and substance-related deaths in the country, all of which are compounded by an understaffed and saturated mental health service.
Despite these sobering figures, there’s still a reluctance to talk about our mental health.
Ian says: “In my case, and in the case of many of my clients, my tactic from an early age was to be tough and carry on because I’m Northern and a man.
“But that can’t work indefinitely, and a large part of my work is about telling business owners that it’s ok to not be ok.
“Running a business is a high-stress job, so no wonder it can cause anxiety; you’ve got clients, staff and overheads to think about, so it’s no longer just about you. It can feel precarious at times too, and the inclination I see among many entrepreneurs is to shoulder all that pressure themselves.”
Ian works with business leaders across the region, supporting them not only to grow their companies but to grow themselves as people too.
He added: “I do a lot of work with Headlight Project, which is a suicide prevention charity set up after the death of respected local businessman Russ Devereux.
“Through my work with them, I know that the most important thing when it comes to easing the burden of mental health is to talk about it, whether as a sufferer or a friend or family member of someone who may be having difficulties.
“Other practical steps to take when the anxiety gets too much include taking regular breaks (I find a walk in the countryside with my dog Edwin really resets my mind), forming a network of like-minded people and making sure you get enough sleep.
“Of course, if your anxiety is really bad or you’re having unwelcome thoughts, it’s vital to seek professional help from your GP – it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
“I’m living proof that you can reach rock bottom and not only survive but thrive in the cut-throat world of business.”
For more information about Ian Kinnery or his coaching services, visit kinnery.co.uk