This Entrepreneur's Story Shows the Frightening Link Between Financial Insecurity and Mental Health
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
For months, experts have warned against the “shadow costs” of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing strain on our mental health is near the top of the list.
Our first concerns, of course, have been for the number of deaths, testing, availability of PPEs, ventilators, and medical care. Next came the mandates to limit face-to-face business and halt most travel and shelter in place. This was followed by emergency loans and aid to the millions of individuals and businesses affected.
But, the crisis is nowhere near abated and tensions continue to soar. Now perhaps the biggest risk emerges. With millions of workers still unemployed and the programs to assist them on overload, the phases of anger, debilitating depression, and suicide begin.
Mental health is the growing crisis that may eclipse, but invariably amplifies, all other costs. According to Time, one in five U.S. adults experiences a major depression every year (even before the added stresses and concerns this years' global health crisis, racial unrest, and a disabled economy have brought on).
What should we know about depression and suicide?
Some forms of depression come from a chemical imbalance, illness, or injury. In these cases, individuals may respond to medical treatment along with talk therapy. But beyond internal or medical causes, the external conditions that influence depression are legion: isolation, anxiety, excessive time on devices, bullying, economic instability, debt, and unemployment.
While discouragement seems understandable among our most vulnerable people, interestingly, the risk of severe depression may be even higher for wealthy and accomplished entrepreneurs. For these individuals, expectations are high and in hard times the risk of failure (and public embarrassment, along with the impact on employees, investors, and families) soars. These include surprise situations such as film producer and philanthropist Steve Bing, who recently committed suicide at age 55.
Unfortunately, Bing's story is not a singular one. Take Ivan Anz, a young and highly successful entrepreneur. Anz, the founder at the helm of Equity & Help, has been an entrepreneur from the time he was seven, purchasing candies to sell at a markup to friends. Currently, he heads an Inc. 500 company and has garnered multiple awards.
“Did you see the article about the Robinhood investor?” he asked me. I had. It was a recent article in Forbes about Alexander Kearns, a 20-year-old student at the University of Nebraska who’d been home from college and living with his parents in Naperville, IL. Like many young adults, he opened an account with the millennial-focused investment company to do commission-free trades.
Then he started experimenting with options, which were risky enough, but even more so now with the market experiencing wild swings day by day. On June tenth, his account showed a balance of minus $730,165 as his trades settled. (According to the company’s founders, while the online statement was confusing to Kearns, his actual net balance at the time was approximately $16,000).
Kearns’ final note was filled with anger toward Robinhood, saying he had “no clue” what he was doing. Then he took his life.
As Anz reminded me of the story, it was clear the horror was visceral to him. You see, he told me, a few years prior this could have been him. As an entrepreneur, he was naturally competitive. He’d started a radio show and marketing company, created Toyota dealerships in Latin America, and won regional business awards. At barely 20 years old, he was a business prodigy with wealth beyond his dreams.
He was, or so it seemed, beyond happy, until he started seeing online ads from people even more successful than himself. On Instagram and Facebook, he saw experts maintaining real success is learning to double your wealth in a year, in six months, or perhaps even weeks. In their pictures, they were driving Ferraris and living in mansions.
When financial success is no longer enough
Now Anz’s even bigger intentions were set and he steeled his resolve. He studied Forex, options trading, and a variety of high-risk investments, determined to learn the secrets to “turning one thousand dollars into one million in a week.”
But he was miserable, feeling his accomplishments were minor in the realm of what should be possible. He began to argue with his wife and, for the only time in his life, began to fight with his parents. He slept only an hour a night.
His entrepreneurial spirit fled as his only goal became the quest for outsized financial success.
Then came his own “Kearns moment” when, in an instant, he realized his six months of labor, insomnia nights, and anxiety had produced a single result — a sudden and giant loss. He was nearly penniless.
“How much was the loss?” I asked, wondering if my question was impertinent. He answered immediately, as the number had etched itself in his brain: “It was $238,000.”
With it, he experienced a loss of identity so profound it felt like nothing he’d done in his life to that point was worthwhile. He understood exactly how Kearns must have felt and realized how close he’d been to such a decision himself.
Thankfully for Anz, his wife, Bella, and his family remained in his corner. At his request, Bella found a spiritual counselor he could see.
“I realized my brain is not ‘me,'” he recalls. “I am a being, and I can control my mind and my body.”
His mental health improved as he realized that staring in stress at the graphs and charts on a screen every day was not a worthy use of his time. He followed a macrobiotic diet that restored his equilibrium and health.
Then, while standing in the shower, he received a surge of inspiration about what he should do. He and Bella would move to the U.S. with the final $3,000 that remained. He formed a plan for his current business, Equity & Help, which has a conduit to small foreclosed properties. The company cleans and refurbishes the properties, and then offers to finance them for families unable to secure credit or afford payments high enough to purchase a home through traditional means.
Families pay approximately two-thirds of what they'd have expended in rent, but enough to provide investors with a healthy return. During their tenure, they contribute work on additional upgrades to the home. For investors, the model is a sustainable one that in addition to returns, enriches them in the knowledge that their families are supported and helped by their funds. Anz calls the concept “Philanthroinvesting.”
The experience, in sum, affected him profoundly. He achieved the high success that was followed by devastating shame and loss, along with deep depression and loss of mental and physical health. He now shares that experience freely in the hope it can be of help to other entrepreneurs.
To protect and ensure mental health, Anz suggests the following:
1. Work and invest with a higher purpose than money. It is imperative that incoming entrepreneurs, investors, and employees work for a business (whether their own or someone else’s) founded on principles of sustainability and philanthroinvesting, he says. The purpose must be big enough to justify their passion, time, and the use of their lives, instead of as solely a means to attain affluence.
2. Learn that success, as measured by luxury, is a mirage. Many of the purported "gurus," who insist they have the exclusive secrets to instant wealth, are frauds. Even when operating legally, the wealth they epitomize is either faked, borrowed, or earned from events and educational products and not from the methods they teach. Interestingly, multiple well-known “gurus” are now reeling in the global health crisis as the millions they’d been banking on from events are now gone. Many of their actual investments in real estate are leveraged by as much as 85 percent and will also dissolve. The majority of stock trade experts use questionable practices with extreme risk. In all, instead of striving for money for the sake of money, Anz advises that true financial freedom is comprised of knowledge, control, spiritual strength, emotional fulfillment, enjoyment, legacy, and purpose.
3. Learn that physical health supports mental and emotional wellness. As Anz discovered, doing activities that you enjoy, eating nutritious food, getting sufficient sleep, and spending time with beloved family members or meaningful friends are big factors in regaining happiness and emotional equilibrium. I heartily agree. Make these components of health a priority.
4. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Anz suggests checking references carefully on the resources you use. Even if the help you do receive is insufficient or you’ve tried to help someone else and failed, persist. When Anz knew he was in trouble, he pressed his wife to find a suitable professional counselor even when their finances had tanked. There is no failure so great it can’t be made much better with the perspective of a little professional help, he maintains.
In summary, Anz’s experience exemplifies the findings of recent studies on depression and suicide. Economic security is a giant factor in the emotional security that supports mental health. In 2020 and most probably for many seasons to come, the global health crisis and economic downturn are affecting hundreds of thousands of employees and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and beyond. The stakes for addressing mental wellness have never been higher.
So, how can we turn the tide?
Collectively and individually, we should do all we can to reach out, to assist in emotional and financial relief, and to check in on our community and the people around us. Focus on the ways we can create and find improvement and the ways we can help.
And according to Anz, we should also become "philanthroinvestors" to any degree that we can. We should find purpose and passion in overcoming our barriers while creating new ways to connect and to ease the stress of others around us. In the process, we reinforce and build our own well-being as well.