VG Siddhartha’s death and significance of mental well-being and health amongst entrepreneurs

No doubt, most have realised the value of good mental health especially entrepreneurs. The suicide of Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) owner VG Siddhartha made us realise the immense pressure and the significance of mental well-being and health amongst entrepreneurs.

Dr Prakriti Poddar, an expert in Mental Health, HR, Corporate and Education Upliftment, Managing Trustee of Poddar Foundation, finds it difficult to guess what went into Siddhartha’s mind. “But usually, it is a deep sense of hopelessness, high level of stress and inability to face the troubles of life that lead an individual towards an extreme step like suicide.”

Tejal Pimpley, Promoter-Director, CISB Group Companies, remembers VG Siddhartha as a successful business leader, strategist, fighter, winner and someone who went from being a coffee farmer to handling the world’s 6th largest coffee brand. “Taking such a drastic and extreme step is not easy at all. However, surely he would be feeling a mix of various volatile emotions.”

Dr Vinod Kumar, Psychiatrist & Head, Mpower – The Centre, Bangalore, speaks about decades-old varied studies that put mental illness as the reason behind suicides. “If we consider that as a possibility, then he would have been depressed for a while.

Depression can be very deceptive, as most people are able to maintain a social façade and continue functioning seemingly. The financial issues, which would have a potential solution, would have seemed insurmountable.”

Dhruv Trigunayat, CEO, Ultrafresh India, maintains, “Mental health is an extremely important aspect of our overall well-being and it is important to train our minds to evaluate problems. I feel that, to every financial burden or vision that has gone awry, there is a solution. In the case of VG Siddhartha, perhaps there was some remorse for having not been able to fulfil his vision and at not having been able to find a way out.”

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Siddhartha’s suicide letter talking about his liquidity crunch and pressure from unnamed private equity investors and other lenders is something that psychiatrist Dr PK Manglik focuses on.

“The line, ‘I am very sorry to let down all the people that put their trust in me’ reveals that he was well-aware of the responsibilities that come along with his profession and that his stakeholders and personal network trusted him as an entrepreneur. The contents also convey a deep sense of remorse and failure which led him to think that committing suicide was the only step to end his troubles.”

In the competition to succeed, several mental health issues are overlooked by entrepreneurs. Dr Manglik talks about ordeals like long working hours, improper diet and lack of proper sleep leading to not only lifestyle diseases but also often overlooked mental illnesses.

Shiraz Khan, Founder, Spicetree Design Agency points out the need of every entrepreneur to grow big and newsworthy amidst competition. “In this quest, they could get lost in the maze or even debts. The basis of any healthy business is a right mix of clear objective, strong fundamentals, and money management skills.

Mental health is automatically taken care of when you are moving at a steady pace and in the right direction. When entrepreneurs face stress in business, they deal with it on a temporary basis. The long-term repercussions are not thought of. All of this accumulates and hits with more force, by which time entrepreneurs succumb and start to panic.”

There is no doubt when Dr Kumar states that such a high-risk occupation can lead to high stress and mental issues. “There is also a high prevalence of substance abuse in an attempt to self-medicate, which adds to the mix. Due to a lack of awareness and the associated stigma and myths, one is unable to seek appropriate help and support.”

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Tejal believes, “Every business is so highly competitive that we forget to focus on our own self and our personal lives. Work pressure can get entrepreneurs agitated and eventually lead them into depression. Most of the times, we tend to ignore small angers and frustrations, not calm ourselves down and it starts building up.”

According to Dr Poddar, things not going as planned means pressure of delivering increasing. “Often entrepreneurs get buried neck deep in work and overlook the need for adequate physical and mental rest. One must never ignore any signs of a breakdown.”

Any advice would be good advice for entrepreneurs to keep their mental well-being intact. Tejal calls awareness as a key. “All successful people are intelligent, articulate and sensitive. Taking breaks, learning to trust and delegate, being open to seeking feedback, forming a core team are the crucial points to be considered.”

Each profession has its share of responsibilities and a work-life balance with time for friends and family is needed, says Dr Manglik. “It is also essential to make a room for pursuing your favourite pastimes. At the same, physical exercise and a proper balanced diet should not be ignored.”

Adds Dr Kumar, “One needs to have a support structure in the form of peer groups, mentorship etc. that will go a long way in recognising and managing stress related mental health issues. Finally there should be no barriers to seeking appropriate professional help when need arises.”

Shiraz wants every entrepreneur to take care of their health just like their business, even more. “The most important aspect of business management is PRESSURE. One must get into programmes that help them manage this pressure.”

Dr Poddar does not want anyone to keep emotions bottled up. “Whenever things start going downhill, you must tell yourself that business or professional success is just a part of life. Everything can be built again but life once ended cannot be resurrected.”

Advice from Dhruv is quite simple. In the busy business life, most entrepreneurs are all work and no play. “For sound mental health, it is important to have the right frame of mind.” Apart from engaging in activities triggering chemicals responsible for our happy and sad feelings, he feels the need to practice yoga and meditation.

So do we need mental health and well-being training as a part of management training or business? Dr Kumar agrees of its inclusion right from schools to management training. “Focus on mental health is not important only for entrepreneurs, it must be given importance in every workplace for all employees,” Dr Poddar responds.

“Organisations must have a mental health counsellor on board who can at regular intervals train the workforce to manage stress and counsel people who are experiencing mental health troubles or burnout.”

Dr Manglik too is vehement. “It would definitely ease some of the strain that gets aggravated from time to time. It is heartening to note that corporates have begun to recognise the role of well-being for employees and have undertaken initiatives in this regard. A concerted awareness programme and 24 hour toll-free helpline for mental health patients is also the need of the hour.”