Richard Bartlett on depression and entrepreneurship

When I first started working for myself, I soon learnt that the 40hr week was a really bad fit for me. When inspiration strikes, I would get a surge of creativity that might last for a week or two, where I’d spend every waking moment working like a maniac. Then I would spend a week or two in a lower energy state, reading books, meeting with people, drinking lots of coffee, not getting much done. When I learnt to just ride that wave, my anxiety left me. Before that, I had been stressing out whenever I wasn’t being productive. Learning to just go with it was a huge step up in my day-to-day contentment. Trying to force myself into a 9-5 box just wasn’t working.

I think entrepreneurs are particularly susceptible to depression, as they tend to be the kind of people that:

  • are dissatisfied with the status quo,
  • have to deal with huge uncertainty and immense pressure,
  • have manic bursts of creative energy that inevitably come down at some stage,
  • have their identity wrapped up in a project that is statistically quite likely to fail.

Mental health is something we care a lot about in our start-up. Most of us have some experience of depression. In fact, as we’ve been through the mill together, we’ve learned that everyone has their own symptoms when we’re under stress, e.g. one person loses their decision-making ability, and I turn into a jerk who leaves no space for other people’s opinions.

As we’ve come together to build an organisation from scratch, we’ve prioritised well-being. For instance, most of our meetings start with a ‘check-in’, where everyone is invited to share how they’re feeling, before we start talking about work. This one practice is probably the most important thing we do to maintain our health as an organisation. Practising paying attention to how your feeling, and then articulating it, is hugely effective in maintaining your mental health. And it means that people are really quick to reach out with support if you’re ever feeling low. Anytime I’m feeling stressed out, my colleagues spring into action to see what they can take off my plate. That is amazing.

Being a part of the Enspiral network is really key too. We are basically just a big group of friends that are all going through similar experiences, so everyone’s really good at looking out for each other. We go away together for a weekend out of the city every 6 months. Developing those community relationships, spending some time in nature, sharing our hopes and dreams… that stuff is all key to maintaining a healthy state of mind.

The thing is though, it really takes work to develop this kind of culture, it doesn’t just happen. It is something we consciously invest in, both at Loomio and Enspiral. The other factor that contributes to us all feeling engaged in our work is that we are solving meaningful problems, and we operate democratically, so there’s no stupid boss telling me what to do!


  1. Kara-Leah Grant says:

    Love the fact that Loomio does a ‘How you feeling?’ check in before getting into work… it recognises that we’re people before employees and how we’re feeling will impact how we’re working. Help people feel better, support them when they don’t and you’ll get better work out of them. Not that it’s about getting more out of people… it’s really just about caring for each other as we work together.

    1. Jose Mathias says:

      Yes! This right here is gold: “it recognises that we’re people before employees and how we’re feeling will impact how we’re working”

      I think in business it’s too easy to get caught up in being money-driven, and what happens then is you start seeing people as things that buy from you or work for you.

      Healthy businesses that treat people like people.

      1. Kara-Leah Grant says:

        Yes – the underlying intention of the business matters. Are we here to create something awesome, and by an extension an awesome world? Or are we here to create more money? Forgetting that money is just a way of keeping score, and it’s only one way of keeping score. That’s what Loomio and many of the Enspiral Collective does so well… their primary aim is to create social change and the money is a bonus.

        1. Jose Mathias says:

          I think that’s the true meaning of a social enterprise – a business that puts people first. Correct me if I’m wrong!!

          1. Kara-Leah Grant says:

            True – I don’t understand why ALL business can’t be like that though. What’s the point of making money if it’s hurting people or the environment?

          2. Jose Mathias says:

            People can be selfish. I don’t think it’s a matter of wanting more than we need – I think it’s a matter of having a distorted view of what we need. Do we really need 5 devices each? Do we really need to have the latest iPhone? I think I need those things, but I really don’t. I just want them.

  2. herstory says:

    I really, really enjoyed this article. I identified with a lot of what was said and that brings me a great deal of comfort. Thank you for writing this.

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