Sometimes it’s better to let the numbers do the talking, rather than wax hyperbolic. … after all, the numbers are one of the primary reasons this blog exists.

Cutting to the chase, the numbers from a handful of studies suggest entrepreneurs are more apt to suffer from ADHD, bi-polar disorder, depression, and substance abuse. The study that garnered a lot of attention and seems to be pretty solid is Are Entrepreneurs “Touched with Fire”? by Michael A. Freeman, et al. (April 2015). Yeah, the study is already more than two years old, but it still resonates loud and clear. We recently spoke to Dr. Freeman, by the way, and follow up work is underway; however, he is not free to speak about it until it’s reviewed and ready for publication.

We pulled some numbers from it below, but it’s way worth reading the whole thing – it’s on the web, free of charge. It involved 242 entrepreneurs and 93 “demographically matched comparison participants.” Anyway, here you go on the 2015 study:

“Self-reported mental health concerns were present across 72% of the entrepreneurs in this sample,” the study states, “a proportion that was significantly higher than that of the comparison group.” (Our bold.) The comparison group came in at 48%.

49% of the entrepreneurs sampled reported “having any lifetime mental health condition” versus 32% in the comparison sample. Digging a little deeper, the study discovered the following in terms of percentage rates regarding specific conditions:

Entrepreneurs Comparison group
Depression 30% 15%
ADHD 29 5
Bipolar 11 1
Anxiety 27 26
Substance abuse 12 4

And on the extreme end of things, 5% of the sampled entrepreneurs attempted suicide and 2% reported psychiatric hospitalization, compared to 2% and 1% respectively for the comparison group.

The Silver Lining

So what’s the good news? You need to be “Touched with Fire” because that’s what gives you creativity and innovation; it drives your desire to achieve ambitious goals; and that willingness to take some risks! In the discussion section of the study, check out what Freeman et al. have to say:

“The findings presented above suggest that a broad and complex array of interacting cognitive, affective, and behavioral differences associated with individual and co-occurring mental health conditions may also be associated with entrepreneurship. Some of the positive outcomes produced by symptomatic entrepreneurs in this sample, and asymptomatic entrepreneurs from symptomatic families, include invention, innovation, company formation, and job creation. (Our bold.)

“Given that the vast majority of the job creating, value-creating entrepreneurs in this study sample are affected by individual and/or family mental health issues, the strict focus on a disease model seems reductionistic and misleading.

“Instead of viewing a diagnosis as a disease, it can be viewed as a description of a set of empowering traits and personal endowments that are coupled with vulnerabilities and risk factors. If properly managed, these endowments can result in significant social and personal benefits.” (Our bold.)

We still got to manage the “fire” but “fire” is good.