From a young age, we’ve been bombarded with the philosophy that, “if you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life.” (Barf.) If you work in the tech industry, it may feel like the culture at your business creates an extremely blurry line between work and life. More and more tech companies are creating organizational norms like self-managed PTO, catered meals, and company-sponsored outings. All of these initiatives are created with the goal of people loving their time at work.
But what if you don’t love going to work? Worse yet, what if you don’t love doing ANYTHING? What if you can’t seem to find the drive to even get out of bed, let alone make it to work for that free lunch?
I’ve worked more than six years in technology. It’s the only industry I know, and I love tech in many ways. I love that I live in a city with an intimate, yet growing, startup scene. I love how technology companies harness data (often mined from other softwares) to set and achieve aggressive goals. I love being able to quickly test and evolve new ideas without red tape or bureaucracy.
But working in the startup industry has also led to hundreds of sleepless nights, worrying about how to solve that complex problem that’s holding up productivity. It’s led to panic attacks in the bathroom over missed deadlines, and mornings where I’d rather cancel those coffee plans again than get up and face the world. I know that tech isn’t the only industry that takes a toll on mental health, but for one of the most digitally-mature sectors in our society, we sure do stay pretty quiet about it.
Fellow tech and startup employees: if you’re reading this and struggling with mental health issues, you’re not alone.
In a 2016 survey conducted by Open Sourcing Mental Illness (a group that promotes conversation around mental wellness in tech), 52 percent of respondents stated that they’ve struggled with a mental health disorder in the past. This is twice as high as the national average of one in five people. Seventy-one percent of participants reported that mental health issues have compromised their productivity at work, with depression, anxiety, and ADHD being the most common disorders among respondents.
Yet, when asked if being open about mental health would hurt their career, more than 80 percent of survey takers thought that it might. This. Is. Not. Okay.
Being vulnerable about your mental health proves that you are working toward becoming a more effective person. In fact, I work at a startup that preaches capacity as a key condition of employee engagement. If you are overcapacity or unable to take time for yourself, your productivity and engagement suffers.
Self-care is badass.
In September, I intentionally put my mental health first after suffering a panic attack during a meeting with colleagues. I had been working 60+ hour weeks and neglecting relationships, health, and sleep. Since then, I’ve started regularly seeing a counselor, taking an antidepressant medication, exercising daily, and minimizing work outside of the office.
While I still don’t wake up every day with a smile on my face, some of my best work at my current job has been produced since prioritizing my mental health. I’m more comfortable around my colleagues, I’ve lost weight, and I’ve been drinking less alcohol. I’m more attentive with my husband and honestly, just a better person.
That being said, I know I’m not the only one struggling with mental illness in the technology or startup space. I’ve had countless one-on-one conversations with colleagues and friends who see therapists, take medication, and practice self-care to alleviate the overwhelm caused (or at least inflated) by working in this sector. However, these discussions have always been discreet and often are among people with whom I have a great level of trust. And they always seem to be brushed off by the quip “well, that’s just what you expect when you work at a startup!” There’s a difference between being immersed in the success of a business and achieving hard, meaningful work and being burnt out because you’re over-utilized.
Speak up and get help.
No matter the industry, if you’re struggling with mental illness, there is help available. Here are a few ways to begin exploring options for your health:
As massive as it is now, the tech industry is only going to expand even more in the coming decades. We are the precedent for how mental illness will be perceived in tech.
Thanks for reading,