In the wake of the suicide of a promising tech entrepreneur this weekend, Dr. Richard Shadick helps us – and Forbes.com readers – to understand the mindset of young founders in a startup culture who may be dealing with issues of isolation/stress/depression.
In the wake of the passing this weekend of Ilya Zhitomirskiy, one of the four founders of much-hyped open-source social network Diaspora, an unsettling conversation has begun within the tech community. Zhitomirskiy’s death, rumored to be a suicide but officially the cause is unknown, has ignited what many see as a much-needed and long-awaited dialogue in the industry: the mental health repercussions of the immense pressure and scrutiny—both internal and external—that young tech founders weather in their quest for the new American Dream.
“These are the new masters of the universe,” says Richard Shadick, Ph.D., the director of Pace University’s counseling center and adjunct professor of psychology in an interview with Forbes.com. “We saw the same profile with Wall Streeters in the 80s: lots and lots of pressure and enough money to motivate them to keep striving for more.” Entrepreneurs, especially those in the high-risk-high-reward startup game tend to have a specific type of personality profile, he says: exceedingly driven, creative, often idiosyncratic thinkers with what can be overwhelmingly high ideals. “It takes a little bit of craziness just to undertake such a huge endeavor to begin with.”
But are entrepreneurs any more prone to depression than the rest of the world? New research does link the creative thought process and capacity for highly focused work so often seen in founders with depressive thinking. Amongst themselves, founders point to isolation, pressure and lack of adequate health care as fuel to the fire of depression. One fund-raising entrepreneur notes that looking for funding might make it especially difficult for a young founder to address any mental health issues he might face. “I do believe it is an impediment to getting investor backing,” he says. “Depression is not well understood by people who haven’t experienced it.”
In the wake of a tragedy like the death of a member of the community, an outcry for a solution is natural. By all accounts the opening of a dialogue on the mental health issues of entrepreneurs—a possible predisposition to depressive thinking and the insurmountable pressure of attempting to reach superstardom by 30—is a step in the right direction.
But Shadick thinks it’s imperative that the conversation surrounding mental health become an industry priority.“The prototype of a Zuckerberg can be quite dangerous for someone to try and attain,” he says. To that end he says it’s essential to address the issue of stress management within the community and the encouragement of realistic work-life balance. “Particularly for founders. Because if someone is starting a company, they’re going to be the model for all future employees and the health of the corporate culture.”
And if work-life balance plays even the tiniest part of the mental health of an individual, that seems like one place where the risk just isn’t worth it.
Back-to-school = back-to-stress?
As the demanding school year draws near, many teens begin to experience higher stress levels. Here are tips from Pace’s Dr. Richard Shadick as to how you can help your teen get a handle on stress before it wreaks havoc on their psyche.
“Often teens feel stress about the start of the school year because their schedule is quite different during the summer,” says Richard N. Shadick, director of Pace University Counseling Center and adjunct professor of psychology, in Myrna Beth Haskell’s back to school/August column which has a circulation of over 500,000 readersand appears in a number of parenting publications across the country, including Carolina Parent.
“They are used to fewer demands and expectations. Also, during the summer, some teens tend to lose their social network. This makes for an awkward transition and the need to get reacquainted with peers after much time has passed.”
Teens might be concerned about considerable changes as well, such as more intense academic loads or new school environments.
“Depending on the year, teens may be facing major challenges such as starting high school, applying to colleges or looking for work,” Shadick says.
Don’t underestimate stress
“Signs that your teen’s stress is getting out of hand include drastic changes in grades, personality or habits,” Shadick says. “For example, if a neat and orderly teen starts to become disheveled and disorganized, parents may need to be concerned.”
Parents can help
Shadick believes planning a structured summer is essential because this alleviates a drastic transition. He also advises maintaining your teen’s social activities and connections.
“Encourage your teen to stay in contact with their friends from school so that they will have the social support they need when they return to classes,” Shadick says. He also says it’s a good idea for parents to talk frequently with their teens about the transition from summer vacation to school, and to work with them on being properly prepared for the change.
Mental health professionals rely on a number of screening tools to accurately diagnose depression. Here’s a peek at the questions they ask — so you can assess your own risk.
Not everyone experiences the same warning signs of depression, according to a just-published article on EverydayHealth.com. Some people may endure sadness, hopelessness, feelings of guilt; others may lose interest in their favorite activities, have trouble thinking clearly, or face fatigue and changes in their sleeping or eating patterns.
“Diagnosing depression requires a complete history and physical exam,” says Richard Shadick, PhD, associate adjunct professor of psychology and director of the counseling center at Pace University in New York City. Doctors must also rule out medical problems such as thyroid disease and consider coexisting emotional health issues like anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress, and substance abuse.
What goes into a depression screening? “There are many types of depression scales and depression screens,” explains Shadick. “The questions asked look for common symptoms as well as how much these symptoms might be affecting a person’s ability to function and maintain relationships.”
Many college counseling centers are more swamped than ever, therapists say, particularly at this time of year, in the frenzy of final exams and job searches.
Dr. Richard Shadick, Director of Pace University’s Counseling Center in New York City and an adjunct professor of psychology, was interviewed about trends in screening college students for mental health issues – what works, what hasn’t.
Within the counseling field, there is no consensus about whether there really are more college students with mental health issues or whether they are simply increasingly willing to ask for help.
Some say that antidepressants and more support has made it more possible than ever for a student who is mentally ill to attend college. Others have noted that this generation of students seems less able to cope with stress, for whatever reason.
At Pace University in New York, counseling director Richard Shadick and his staff give a presentation at each “University 101” class for freshman and give them a survey to help them get a read on substance abuse and mental health problems they may be having. The mental health staff also spends time on campus giving mini screenings called “checkups from the neck up” and refers students who need help to the counseling center.
Learn more about how mental health is being taken seriously here at Pace and at other college campuses.
Pressures at work can threaten your mental health, so you need a plan to handle the stress and safeguard your mood.
When stress on the job saps your mental health, it’s time for a new business model.
“Absenteeism, errors, conflicts with colleagues, missed deadlines, fatigue, difficulty concentrating—these are all indications that depression is an issue,” explains Dr. Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the counseling center at New York City’s Pace University, in the Winter 2011 issue of Esperanza. Shadick says recent economic woes have only exacerbated the stress and anxiety levels of workers in the United States and Canada.
According to Shadick, when financial and family conditions permit, workplace depression actually can be an important impetus for change. In that light, the very real pain of depression might be compared to the agony of labor, giving birth to a new existence.
“It can give us a chance to re-examine our lives and where we are,” Shadick says, “and in that sense it can also be a gift.”
“Slowing down,” or simply feeling that you can no longer do things you used to do, is the number one most
reported stressor affecting the elderly. “Concern for world conditions” is the second most reported stress agent, and represents global concerns such as escalating terrorism and crime. Pace University Lienhard School of Nursing professors, Dr. Susan Gordon and Shirlee Stokes, studied healthy adults over the age of 65 who lived in non-hospital, community settings to determine what “stressed them out.”
Contact: Public Affairs
PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. – “Slowing down,” or simply feeling that you
can no longer do things you used to do, is the number one most
reported stressor affecting the elderly. “Concern for world
conditions” is the second most reported stress agent, and
represents global concerns such as escalating terrorism
and crime. Pace University Lienhard School of Nursing
professors, Dr. Susan Gordon and Shirlee Stokes, studied
healthy adults over the age of 65 who lived in non-hospital,
community settings to determine what “stressed them out.”
The ten most common stressors experienced by the elderly,
according to the survey are:
1) Slowing Down
2) Concern for World Conditions
3) Decreasing Number of Friends or Losing Longtime Friends
4) Time with Children or Grandchildren Too Short
5) Change in Sleep Habits
6) Feeling of Remaining Time Too Short
7) Thinking About Own Death
8) Decreasing Mental Abilities (i.e., forgetting, difficulty
with decision-making, planning, etc.)
9) Being Away from Home Overnight or Longer (i.e., vacations,
10) Constant or Recurring Pain or Discomfort
Stokes states, “There is evidence that individuals with high stress levels
experience more illness and nursing prevention can be directed to reducting
stress or eliminating it to improve the overall health of the elderly.”
By identifying the causes of stress in the elderly, nurses can help reduce
them through both traditional means, including planning for activities of
daily living and talking, and also employ new alternative means such as
relaxation techniques and therapeutic touch.
Pace is a comprehensive, independent University with campuses in New York
City and Westchester County. Nearly 14,000 students are enrolled in
undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs in the Dyson
College of Arts and Sciences, Lubin School of Business, School of Computer
Science and Information Systems, School of Education, School of Law,
Lienhard School of Nursing and the World Trade Institute.