TED Talks speaker Dr Rebecca Brachman on protecting mental health in a “high-stress startup”

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With mental illness being “incredibly ubiquitous” among those building a startup or tech company, it’s likely people in your team are affected, according to neuroscientist and TED Talks speaker Dr Rebecca Brachman.

Speaking to Inc, Brachman says entrepreneurs should consider both their own mental health and that of each employee.

“If you are running a company (especially a high-stress startup), more likely than not, you, someone you work with, or someone who works for you is struggling with some form of mental illness,” she says.

“Which can impact both productivity and quality of life. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.”

As such, Brachman says watching for symptoms and seeking treatment early is critical.

“If you or one of your co-workers is experiencing symptoms of mental illness, it’s worth seeing a medical professional for two reasons: 1) though our current treatments aren’t ideal, the right treatment regimen and/or the right therapist can be life-changing, and 2) symptoms like anxiety and depression can have a lot of different causes, including thyroid disorders, that can often be treated once diagnosed,” she says.

She says building “stress resilience” through “lifestyle interventions” like “exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep hygiene and social support” are good ways to protect mental health.

“In the lab, exercise and ‘environmental enrichment’ are as robust resilience-enhancing interventions as any of our other approaches (drugs, surgery, etc.),” she says.

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Brachman also dispels the myth that mental illness is somehow linked with creativity and genius.

“In the 1700s and 1800s, people believed tuberculosis increased sensitivity, empathy, and creativity,” she says.

“It was a ‘fashionable’ disease. Now we know TB is caused by an infectious pathogen, most people don’t think that anymore … it will be interesting to see if the same thing holds true for mental illnesses once we understand them better.”

If you or someone you know is living with mental health issues, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

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