Mental Health Check x Fintech Culture
By Nicole Casperson
Business is personal.
There – I said it.
Work is more than just a four-letter word. Work can and should be a source of belonging, growth, and pleasure.
And to say that we, as humans, can remove our “personal” selves from our business environments is dangerous.
That’s not hyperbole, especially in fintech and startup culture.
We live in a society where we’re asked to compartmentalize, compartmentalize, compartmentalize.
The pressures that mount constantly stack up:
- Pressure to perform well
- Pressure to grow your startup
- Pressure to know if your business even works
And when you build something from the ground up that is a product of your personal experiences, the company doesn’t just become work.
It becomes a part of your identity.
Society’s pressure and obsession with instant individualized success is a type of programming we have to unlearn.
Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist and former CEO who serves on the faculty of the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, outlines mental health statistics among entrepreneurs:
- 2x as likely to suffer from depression
- 6x more likely to suffer from ADHD
- 3x more likely to suffer from substance abuse
- 10x more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder
- 2x as likely to have experienced a psychiatric hospitalization
- 2x as likely to have suicidal thoughts
We don’t discuss substance misuse, depression, or being sick because it’s a sign of weakness. Everyone deals with it, yet this shame gets attached to it.
So let me set the record straight.
Mental health is normal.
It is not a character flaw.
It happens to all of us.
And these days, employers have to step in to fund fundamental health care rights for their employees (Example: the overturning of Roe v. Wade has spurred employers to offer to expense travel and other needs for their employees).
Working in fintech as a founder, leader, or operator means you likely work for a startup with the entrepreneurial bug.
I know because I have it too.
And as fintech keeps growing, it’s on leaders like us to take care of ourselves and our people.
How can we expect fintech operators, founders, and investors to establish a human-centric industry if we don’t prioritize our human needs, too?
Unaddressed, all those stressors trickle down to the products you create, and the chances of making mistakes in high-stress environments are even more significant.
Making a Change
In July 2019, Greg Mazanec, a QED Investors partner, lost his life after suffering from substance use disorder.
Greg’s family established the nonprofit organization Operation Lighthouse which partnered with QED to launch a program called ‘Shatterproof Just Five.’
The program focuses on eliminating the stigma of talking about substance abuse in the workplace.
I caught up with QED’s Maryalice Viljoen, Vice President of Administration & Talent, and Ana Cristina Gadala-Maria, Principal and Head of Fontes, to learn more about how the VC firm is normalizing the conversation around mental health and substance misuse.
More than 400 people across 14 U.S.-based QED portfolio companies have participated in the anonymous program over the past 12 months.
Now, a Spanish version of the program is being offered to 22 financial technology companies across Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Peru.
Why LatAm? Not only is it a top emerging market, but culturally, it’s a lot more stigmatized to talk about mental health, according to Cristina Gadala-Maria.
So how does it work?
It’s an online, self-paced, and mobile-enabled program that walks users through five-minute lessons that educate them on concepts and facts regarding addiction.
Through guided learning experiences, animated and expert videos, interactive learning, and supplemental materials, participants learn who is at risk, how to discern whether a person may have a substance use disorder, and how to support loved ones with the disease.
QED rolls out the program to its portfolio companies individually and walks leadership through the process.
The VC firm has found that the more leadership gets behind the program, the more comfortable employees are with taking it. Then, employees can access it through their employee onboarding.
There’s such financial stressor on startup companies.
They don’t have the resources that some larger companies might have. So QED felt it was essential to get this out at a startup level because they may not have the funds for specific health resources.
One of the things I’ve used to help my journey to destigmatizing mental health is telling myself: Don’t get furious. Get curious.
So moments when you have impostor syndrome or another mental health moment, don’t be mad at yourself, but ask yourself, ‘What happened?’
With QED’s program, the lessons help us understand things like the correct language to use (like saying substance misuse instead of abuse because that has a negative connotation).
It helps open our eyes to what substance misuse could look like. So it’s not just for employees that experience substance misuse, but for peers to identify substance misuse in friends, family, and coworkers.
Educational content includes understanding the science behind addiction, ways to reduce the risk of addiction by understanding it, and outlines ways you can help others struggling.
QED’s ultimate goal is encouraging other VCs and fintech companies to do the same. If you’re interested in checking out the program, click here.