Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community: A Chat with Brad Feld

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the first in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to these questions in this AMA

Mental health issues can be considered a huge liability – to investors, customers, partners, co-founders, employees, etc. Should entrepreneurs disclose these issues to build trust and understanding, or is it wiser to keep them private and hope that they do not manifest?

I think it varies a lot, based on the company, the culture, your investors, and the dynamics between you and your investors. When I was running my first company and I had my first depressive episode, I was in my mid-twenties. We didn’t have any investors. The business was owned by myself, my partner Dave, and my dad.

During that period of time, not only was there a huge stigma around mental health issues in general, but people weren’t really talking about depression much, and there was a lot of stigma in my own family around it. I had an enormous amount of shame that I was depressed, so I went to a psychiatrist and then I took medication.

Essentially, there were two people I could talk to besides my psychiatrist. One was Dave and the other was my wife, Amy. As I fast forward 25 years later, I think the stigma and shame associated with depression is lower, but people’s reaction to depression, especially in a work context is very challenged.

If I was your investor and you came to me as a CEO and said, “I am depressed,” my reaction to that wouldn’t be to tell you that you’re unqualified to be CEO. It would be to spend time with you and talk about what is going on, and try to figure out how to get you help in the same way that I would react if you came to me and you had broken your arm or leg, and you couldn’t travel for three months. I wouldn’t say that because you had broken your leg you couldn’t be CEO, but let’s talk about how to configure things around your leadership team and around the company so you can be effective.

I put myself at one end of the spectrum, and then you have people at the other end of the spectrum. I had a conversation with a group of people that included some investors and some very well-known entrepreneurs earlier this year. One of them was adamant that if you’re depressed, you shouldn’t be CEO.

Another person’s view was that the board should give you a six month leave of absence for you to come back as CEO in six months. This doesn’t make sense to me, and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. The short version is that there’s no easy answer. You as the person who is depressed, or as your partner or co-founder is struggling with depression, figuring that out becomes a better part of your own journey as a founder versus looking for the one answer.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Finding Harmony: Managing Work & Life as an Entrepreneur

We held an AMA with Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars, where we discussed Mental Health Awareness & the Startup Community.

This post is the second in a series, which includes a transcript of Brad’s answers to audience questions in this AMA. To sign up for our next AMA, check the schedule here.

Work-life balance is a beast of a thing. Most entrepreneurs I know are heavy on work, less on life. What’s the key for startup entrepreneurs to find more balance? Furthermore, how can we balance the trend that startup founders and their teams are expected to burnout to realize success?

I think the word ‘balance’ is the wrong word. I think the starting point is readjusting how you’re thinking about the issue.

I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of ‘balance.’

The reason I like to use the word ‘harmony’ instead of balance is that if you think about improv jazz, it approximates how a startup works. You don’t have a predetermined set of things that you’re going to be playing. You’re working with a group of people, your team, and things are changing constantly.

If you try to get harmony between work and life, that actually feels achievable. It’s not that there has to be a balance, it’s that they have to be intertwined, playing off of each other, and feeding off of each piece. As a result, I now try to use the phrase ‘work-life harmony.’

There will be periods of time as a founder where work totally dominates and there will be periods where life totally dominates. You can’t schedule when those things will happen. You can build your own rhythms as a founder in how you work and in your personal life, but lots of exogenous things that you will have no control over will happen, and they will fuck with whatever those rhythms are. 

The ability to be flexible and adaptive by striving for harmony versus balance is so much more powerful. There is no measurement.

I think with work-life balance, people think it’s objectified. With harmony, you’re not thinking about it that way. You’re just kind of trying to have this generally positive experience even when the shit is hitting the fan and things are really difficult.

You’re allowing it to evolve with you, rather than trying to force it into something.

You can listen to the answer here.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

From Coping to Empowered: Mental Health and the Community

Last week was the Techstars Boulder Startup Week Brain Crawl, where I was given the role of introducing the Brain Health Conversation with Jerry Colonna and Brad Feld.

This was also a huge moment for me as I unveiled Sigmend’s OPEN Labs to an audience full of the people who have helped me the most on my own journey.

Under different circumstances, it could have been a very nerve racking task, but after having part one of this series viewed by a few hundred thousand people thanks to Brad, Techstars and Mattermark, I had a different feeling as I took the stage.

So what’s changed? What allows me to stand on stage talking about my disorder with pride and excitement instead of nervousness?

Let’s rewind a few days… As prep for my introduction speech, I listened to the dozens of talks Brad and Jerry have given on brain health. Each time, they were impressively vulnerable and real with the audience. They addressed the hard stuff, gave compassionate answers and told authentic stories. I came into the conversation on Wednesday thinking that this talk would be impressive in a similar manner as their past talks, but it wasn’t.

There was something apparently different. The same shift that has happened in my personal experience is occurring in the community. As Brad and Jerry took questions from the crowd I heard something new.

I heard words like ‘compassion’, ‘cultural shifts’, and ‘viral spreading’ in place of words like ‘I’m coping’, ‘negative response’, and ‘ashamed of myself’.

It felt like a far cry from the mournful and serious voices I’ve heard in the past, which leads me to believe that we are beginning to discover that this topic is one of hope and excitement.

That’s why I was so excited. Brain health has traditionally been a pretty sad and somber topic, but there is a shift taking place. I no longer worry, “what if people don’t respond to my hopeful introduction?” or “what if the audience doesn’t believe that people living successfully with brain disorders aren’t a dime a dozen? What if they don’t know that people impacted by brain disorders can actually be close to 20 percent of the room, especially in tech?

People in that room (and I know outside of it too) believe in the hopeful future of brain disorders. I could hear it in their questions and saw it in their responses. 50 percent of the audience texted in asking to sign up for a spot to attend the OPEN Summit (the kickoff event for OPEN Labs) and another dozen wanted to get involved by dedicating to a loved one or sponsoring the Summit.

My point is this: thanks to the work of people like Jerry, Brad, and our other speakers Amy Reichlin, Faith Cohen, and Impact Founder, people are ready. The next step is to take this community’s latent energy and activate it. We can’t do this without a community, without a movement of people who can make that change happen.

I’ll say it again: there are a lot of confusing things about this disorder, but one thing that is absolutely true is that a supportive community is vital to recovery.

We have a supportive community beginning within the startup ecosystem, but now it’s time to harness that into something bigger. It’s time to join a movement to take this supportive community from talk into action.

So, to everyone who attended the crawl, joined the movement to change the conversation, and applied to the Summit (and helped me calm my nerves!), from the bottom of my heart, thank you. To everyone else, if you are living successfully and can share your experiences with your peers, have a loved one who has been impacted, or want to express your support to your employees, partners, and friends, attend, sponsor, or dedicate to the Summit.                       

We don’t have to wait until events like the Brain Crawl to have hopeful conversations. The OPEN Summit will bring thought leaders, experts and individuals who have been impacted anywhere on the spectrum of bipolar disorder to lay the foundation for OPEN Labs: A think tank and support group for brain disorders by those who know them best. OPEN Labs will ensure that these conversations, support, and real action continue to activate the latent energy of those who want to help.

Watch the Brain Crawl video here.

This was originally published on Medium.

How a Bipolar Diagnosis Helped Explain Me

According to the World Health Organization, “… nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime” and I’ve seen that number reported as high as 58 percent.

And this one from the National Institute of Mental Health, “Our best estimate of the number of adults with any diagnosable mental disorder within the past year is nearly 1 in 5, or roughly 43 million Americans.” The Kim Foundation puts that number a little higher at 26.2 percent or 57 million Americans.

I remember when I first encountered those statistics, two questions immediately jumped into my mind: why are those numbers so ridiculously high, and why doesn’t anybody know about them?

The Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder about a year ago. It completely caught me off guard. When I received the diagnosis, two slogans from my childhood jumped into my head.

The first, from GI Joe, is, “Because knowing is half the battle,” and the second, from afternoon specials, “The more you know…” rode a star across the screen. I’m pretty sure they arrived to a) prove how awesome advertising always sticks with us, and b) emphatically show how little I/we know about mental illness…

In my life to that point, I don’t remember thinking about, let alone having a second thought about mental illness. I was fairly successful. I was pretty good with people. I had friends. That didn’t seem like a person with a mental illness.

I was in the midst of Galvanize’s full stack development bootcamp, which is incredibly stressful, especially for someone coming from a writing background, with words, not code and variables.

Mental illness can be exacerbated by stress. That would be the understatement of the year in my case. I’d go from being on top of the world with enough energy to finally solve the Aanderaa–Karp–Rosenberg conjecture to laying in my bed for hours, going from terror to tears, because I couldn’t even get a console.log right.

I was having a really, really down day, which I used to define as “being in a mood”, when class let out for a break and I made a mad dash for the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this or for me to rub off on them. This was my misery and mine alone. So there I go, basically running out of the side door, leading the pack by a lot. I turned the corner down the alley and am in the final straightaway to freedom when a dear friend’s voice called out to me, “Patrick, stop!”

So I stopped because you can’t run from your friends. Well you can, but that’s just stupid! My friend, who has been through years of struggles both personal and psychological before being diagnosed with Type 1 bipolar, talked me through that moment and insisted that I see one of the most dynamic, firecracker of a psychiatrist named Dr. Jane Boyer.

Life After Acceptance

Through our sessions, so many things about my life seemed to make more sense. How I’d have fits of energy, sometimes for months, where I’d do things like: write a novel, decide I should start doing standup comedy and walk on stage the same night, remodel a cabin in the woods with no woodworking skills, let alone construction experience, or write, produce, and direct a play.

Those were, of course, balanced by months of avoiding anything other than work or being so terrified of human contact that I wouldn’t attend best friends’ birthday parties or make it home for the holidays.

Being diagnosed gave me such a better understanding of who I really am. And not in the context I had previously, that there were two Patricks. One, the public facing Patrick, who is a happy-go-lucky, confident, carefree extrovert and the other, a T-shirt and hoodie wearing, somber, sullen, yet funny introvert. But that these two people were me, just with different things going on in my brain.

No More Stigma

So why am I sharing this winding tale with you? Because without a friend’s insight, I would never have gotten treatment. I would never have even thought that a chemical imbalance in my brain could cause such profound changes on my mood and by consequence, my life. A chemical imbalance, that with the proper medication, could be controlled, keeping me from the unpredictable, cycling highs and lows that type 2 bipolar disorder brings.

We, as a society, are woefully uneducated about mental illness. We are unprepared to have a conversation about mental illness, and technically, we don’t even know how. Some of this ignorance comes from the stigma surrounding mental illness, absolutely, but we, as a society, have to take some of the blame for not reading an article, visiting a site or watching a TED Talk about mental illness.

I was lucky, blessed and fortunate to have amazing people in my life that helped me more than I can tell you. Absent those people, I truly don’t know where I’d be.

Now for my final points:

  • I really, really implore you to take and share this survey. It will quantify the current state of mental illness and what we know about it because we can’t understand, manage or treat what we don’t measure.
  • Take one of the mental illness assessments that’s out there. There’s a bunch out there or this one is supposed to be good.
  • Talk to therapist or a person you truly trust about what’s really going on in your head. You know, the really hard stuff. The stuff that keeps you up at night.
  • If you’re ever where I was on my lowest of low days, reach out immediately to a trained professional. You can send a text to the Crisis Text Line, chat online with iPrevail or call 7 Cups of Tea.

One of the keys to changing the conversation around mental illness is about replacing stigma with hope. A characteristic quality of stigma is a fear of the unknown. We’ll continue to share people and organizations that inspire hope for us. To see this change in your life and company, please reach out to who are in the process of selecting companies to join their mental health accreditation pilot program. Change can happen, please help find out how.

Thanks so much for reading this and please take the survey. It’ll only take 10 minutes or so and you’ll be truly helping all of us better understand mental illness.

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here

This was originally published here.

The Vital Role of Community in Mental Health Support

If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be writing a post discussing my Bipolar disorder for my friends, coworkers, and entire community to see, I wouldn’t have believed you. Thanks to the hard work of my local community in Boulder and Denver, I am not only comfortable writing this post, I am proud.

I am grateful to my community for not labeling me as the ‘crazy guy.’ On the contrary, you’ve embraced me.

You welcomed me back to recovery with open arms and open conversations during Denver Startup Week, you encouraged me while I spoke about my disorder during lightning talks at Galvanize, and not only did you support me through my ups and downs during the Techstars 2016 program, you brought together an entire class to join me.

Now, I am proud to be that little voice saying, ‘hey, you really are not alone’ to entrepreneurs, who are two times as likely to be impacted by a brain (mental) illness. This creative, inspiring, and often ‘crazy’ community has been given a set of gifts that are sometimes accompanied by illness. But as a suicide survivor with a Bipolar disorder, I know that we don’t have to fear these illnesses. We can learn to manage them and thrive (and sometimes even outperform our neurotypical peers 🙂 )

Although thriving is possible, it isn’t the norm. Despite the over 80 percent effective treatments for brain illness, our community has lost lives over the past year because people were afraid to ask for help.

The problem is less about the disorder and more about the way we handle it. I believe we can change this and make thriving the norm.

We have something special here in Boulder, something that gives us a leg up. We have leaders speaking up about their own struggles, we support each other in difficult times, and we #GiveFirst.

Of course you already know that, because you are the community who helped teach me that in the first place. Well, I’m counting on you to do it again, and to help set an example for other communities. This time not just for me, but for all of us who live with a brain disorder.

I’ve been given a chance that not many with a Bipolar disorder have. With access to the very best of treatment and training for my brain disorder, I have something equivalent to an unofficial PhD in recovery, and now I get to work with leaders and experts in the field every day.

The one thing I know to be absolutely true is that a supportive community is vital to recovery.

In celebration of Mental Health Month, we are celebrating that community, and how the conversation is changing from one of tragedy to one of hope and success. Join us on Wednesday, May 17th for an event during Boulder Startup Week to talk about the brighter side of brain health.

We can build a place where we live openly and thrive with hope for our future, but we can’t do it without you. So come learn new things, show your support, and crawl with us (RSVP here)!

Techstars put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic. You can find them here. 

A big thank you to Dave Mayer for paving the way with the Mental Health in the Startup Realm Panel during Boulder Startup Week 2016 alongside Kevin Owocki, Tom Higley, Sarah Jane Coffey, and Brad Feld. An even bigger thank you to the 350+ people who RSVP’d to learn about brain health.

Join us on 5/25 for a live, interactive AMA to hear more about this important topic and how we can all help out in our communities. We’ll be joined by Brad Feld, Managing Director at Foundry Group, and co-founder of Techstars. Register here

This was originally published here.

Let’s End the Stigma Around Mental Health

At Techstars, we talk about the mantra ‘founder first’, but being advocates of founders means we can’t only focus on the health of their companies – we must also focus on the health of the founder.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and Techstars is driving to end the stigma that surrounds mental health. Let’s open up the conversation around it and what it means to our community and industry.

When my first son was a teenager, he was challenged with depression and bipolar disorder. During his high school years, May meant the time of year when he really struggled. I found that being open and honest with my friends and family helped me, my son and others.

We encourage everyone to become educated on mental health and important issues around it. To kickoff the month, we put together a list of resources for anyone who thinks they may be suffering from mental health issues, or anyone who wants to learn more about the topic.

Throughout May, you will also be able to find insight on this topic from other founders and mentors on the Techstars blog.

You can’t #givefirst if you don’t put your own health first.

Do you have resources to add that can help others? Let us know here.

Mental Health America: Download this free Mental Health Toolkit and check out these mental health screening tools

AA: International fellowship of people who have had a drinking problem

Al-Anon: Network providing resources, strength and hope for families & friends of problem drinkers

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Locates mental health resources by city

NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness A mobile platform with 24/7 care for stress, anxiety, and depression

Mental Health Works: Free monthly publication focused on mental health in the workspace. Includes ideas + tools to successfully implement mental health strategies

Failcon: Conference for startup founders to learn from and prepare for failure, so they can iterate and grow fast

TED Talks: Common TED Talks that focus on the topic of mental health

Fully Rich Life: A free toolkit for 21 ways to reduce stress and anxiety

Founder Stories: Suicide, Entrepreneurship and the Road Home

Female Founders: My startup failed and this is what it feels like

Fortune: Depression and Startups: The Emotional Toil of Entrepreneurship

Wired: One startup’s struggle to survive Silicon Valley’s Gold Rush

ParalignMaking mental well-being data driven, intelligent and personalized

Workit Health: An online addiction care program

TWLOHA: Find a list of local resources and a help hotline 

Koko: Koko offers services that help social networks manage crisis, abuse and bullying.

Crisis Text Line: Free, 24/7 line with trained crisis counselors

Support Groups Central: Video Conference-based Support Groups

Depression Recovery Groups: Support for depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety

SonderMind: Network of over 250 licensed therapists in the Denver-Boulder area

The Founder Institute Or How It Helped Me Stand Up To A Bully: Depression: post about what it was like to be diagnosed, but also how it wasn’t the end of the world… actually, it was the start of a new journey – the best one yet!

ZendyHealth: We can arrange a session with a credentialed, reputable therapist who provides affordable services at a practice near you. Our professionals will work with you to evaluate and develop a treatment plan to help manage your depression and/or anxiety.

Sigmend: Helping employees with brain (mental) disorders self advocate.

Impact Founder: An independent multimedia movement and community to reduce the feelings of isolation experienced in entrepreneurship.

Journey Meditation: Leads guided meditation programs in the workplace in a way that’s simple and approachable.