A study into how entrepreneurship affects mental health has revealed high rates of anxiety and depression, partly because of entrepreneurs’ tendency to invest too much of their own identities in the success of their companies.

The Mindset Project is the work of Halifax-based Michael DeVenney, a chartered financial analyst, entrepreneur and consultant, and a long-time sufferer of depression.

“The real issue uncovered in the survey is the inability of entrepreneurs to separate their own identities from their companies,” said DeVenney. He said their sense of worth rested almost entirely with the business.

DeVenney began the survey, which he believes may be the largest on the subject in the world, in May. He received 485 replies to his extensive questionnaire, 80 per cent of them from Atlantic Canada.

The responses reveal that investors and entrepreneurs create a demanding, unrealistic culture that leads to high stress. Sixty-eight per cent of entrepreneurs experience periods of anxiety and depression which negatively impact decision-making.

Founders use many ways to manage stress, with 38 per cent turning to alcohol.

“Only emergency care workers have higher rate of depression overall,” said DeVenney, who is the president of consulting agency, Bluteau DeVenney.

Expectations about business growth rates are particularly unrealistic.

“Generally, private investors expect an equity return of 21.4 per cent, but, on average, only four per cent of companies grow by 10 percent annually,” he said.

“Investors are putting pressure on and entrepreneurs are buying it…These days, everything must be faster and bigger. Even the words used, such as ‘scale’, ‘hustle’, ‘pivot’, are all about moving as fast as you can. Investors lean on entrepreneurs, whether they mean to or not.”

He said it’s important entrepreneurs keep their minds about them so they can make the best decisions, rather than being pressed into trying to meet unrealistic targets.

“If I hear the phrase ‘hockey stick growth’ one more time…The term ‘hockey stick’ is used to beat entrepreneurs.”

DeVenney said entrepreneurs also have “horrendous lifestyles”. Studies show that maximum productivity is achieved at 54 hours a week. About 40 per cent of entrepreneurs work longer than that, with many working more than 80 hours.

“The vision and the idea of making a meaningful difference is why people start a business. These are higher level needs, but the reality of business is meeting lower level needs, such as achieving enough cash flow to survive.”

He said this conflict can start a founder down the road of pleasing others rather than staying true to their vision, which may result in them becoming dissatisfied with their company.

Fear of talking about stress, exacerbates the problem and leads to isolation.

“Entrepreneurs don’t want to worry family, investors, and clients. They don’t want to look weak in front of their peers.” DeVenney said.

There is also stigma against failure, although failure rates are inevitably high. Statistics Canada reveals that only 57 percent of companies survive to their fifth year.

A Price Waterhouse study revealed that 96 per cent of technology companies fail by year five.

DeVenney said stress among entrepreneurs is high across all age groups. But there is a group who stay true to their vision, are well- adjusted, less stressed and financially successful.

“They exercise, they get proper sleep, they talk about their issues with family and friends,” DeVenney said. “It seems simple, but the idea of taking the weekend for yourself is not something most entrepreneurs consider.”

DeVenney is still exploring the research. The 63-question survey had multiple parts, and has resulted in 640,000 pieces of data.

He intends to use the survey to create a new venture and social change.

“I want to see this research put to practical use,” he said. “I’m interested in creating tools, such as online learning, that entrepreneurs can use to live healthier lives…Without entrepreneurs, we’ll never have the prosperity we’re looking for.”