We, as a society, have come leaps and bound in terms of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Despite the progress that has been made, the stigma is still very pervasive. This stigma is even more prevalent among men, whom often feel unable to speak about their feelings. In general, this population exhibits less help-seeking behaviour. In order to breakdown this stigma, it's important for men to hear stories of others who have similarly struggled and sought help. We will be featuring prominent men who have spoken openly about their mental health struggles and their path to recovery. For our first profile, we wanted to feature someone who is part of the startup community. For this community, mental health often falls by the wayside. We have previously spoken about the high rates of mental health issues in entrepreneurs and how it is that much more important for them to take care of themselves.
Brad Feld has been active in the tech startup community since 1987 as both an investor and entrepreneur. He is also a co-founder of the well known startup accelerator TechStars. On his website, FeldThoughts, he has been incredibly open about his mental health struggles and encouraged others, especially other entrepreneurs, to seek help if they need it.
Brad Feld's Story
Brad experienced his first bout of depression in his early 20s. At the time he was running a successful company and yet was clinically depressed. In all of Brad's writing he emphasizes that depression can still happen when everything around you is great. Mental illness doesn't care about your position in life or how your company is doing. During this time he felt incredibly ashamed of his struggles and refused to open up to anyone besides his psychiatrist. His feelings of shame extended to the fact that he was even seeing a psychiatrist. He felt that if people knew what he was dealing with, they would lose respect for him or not take him seriously. Luckily, he did have the ongoing support of his girlfriend Amy and business partner Dave. This support was crucial for Brad in addition to the medical help his psychiatrist provided.
Brad's perspective shifted somewhat during his second period of depression. This came in 2001 just after September 11th when Brad was in his mid-30s. During this time, his world was falling apart around him following the peak of the Internet bubble that ended in the Fall of 2001. In speaking about this time he says, "The last three months of 2001 were awful for me". Brad was in New York City the morning of September 11th 2001. He had just gotten off a red-eye from San Fransisco and was sleeping in his Midtown hotel room when the towers collapsed. This moment in history acted as a trigger for the return of his clinical depression.
While I was never in harm’s way, I was terrified, exhausted, and emotionally distressed.
When Brad returned home to Boulder, Colorado from New York City he didn't travel again for a year. Everyone around Brad was struggling after the burst of the Internet bubble that year which helped Brad open up more about his struggles. Despite feeling comfortable to speak more openly about his depression, Brad still remained relatively discreet about it. It wasn't until the 3rd wave of depression hit Brad, in 2012, that he spoke very openly about it. He had seen so many in his community suffer in silence and he felt he needed to take a different approach this time.
I was open about it this time as it was happening and throughout the process. I knew at this point how to handle it and that it would pass.
Over time, Brad has gained insights into what his triggers are, but says there are still things he doesn't know about his depression. Through understanding what his triggers are, like boredom and physical exhaustion, he has been able to work to avoid them and redefine his goals. Brad has taken it upon himself to be both an example and a resource for other entrepreneurs struggling. He says that startup culture promotes the idea that leaders and entrepreneurs cannot show any weakness when in fact, Brad feels that it is important to show some vulnerability and emotional honesty. Only through opening up has Brad been able to learn how to manage his depression and inspire others to do the same.