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Entrepreneurs Need A ’Safe Space’ To Deal With Mental-Health Issues

Al Sturgeon, Joe Trevors, Karen Murdock, and Shawn Smith.

FREDERICTON – New Brunswick entrepreneurs are encouraging others to reach out with their mental health difficulties to establish a safe space.

Shawn Smith, the founder and CEO of Don’t dis-my-ability Consultation Services, hopes to get the conversation started, but knows entrepreneurs have a harder time finding the right people to talk to.

“Our family, friends and partners mean very well, but they’re not going through what we’re going through,” said Smith.

At a Bell Let’s Talk event last Thursday night at The Ville Cooperative in Fredericton, four panellists were joined by a group of entrepreneurs to discuss the unique pressures put on those who, in Smith’s words, “hustle to make that business go no matter what it takes.”

One attendee described how he doubled the hours he was working after an advisor told him he wasn’t doing enough, and then started to burn out but didn’t feel he had anyone to speak to.

Karen Murdock used to work at Planet Hatch and is now with Expedition Technologies, a software services company. One of the panellists, she said entrepreneurs need to feel comfortable talking about their struggles.

“It’s not an embarrassment or something to feel weak about,” she said. “You need to be strong to be able to come up to somebody and talk to them about those things.”

Joe Trevors is a founder at DENNER Media, Speaker at PTSDeprogrammed and Matchmaker at Interviews On Demand. He also had difficulties finding someone to speak to about the stress he was under, at times acting like nothing was wrong despite very poor mental health.

“Wearing suits and everything, life is great, you’re shaking hands and I’m connecting you and you before I leave tonight,” said Trevors, who was also a panellist at the event.

“And then I’m going to go jump the brand new Explorer off the dam, so people just couldn’t believe it.”

People in attendance noted the stigma against mental health discussions still applied and made safe spaces so important. Smith said when it came down to it, you could be affected financially, along with your credibility and stability.

“You don’t want to get screwed over, you don’t want to make the wrong deal, you don’t want to divulge too much to the wrong person, and so when it comes to mental health, I wonder if people think somehow, in some way it could be used against them at a later date,” Smith said.

Despite the inclusion of Bell Let’s Talk in the event title, many attendees were skeptical of the positive impact of the annual campaign and raised other concerns.

“Bell had this big event, and what happens after the talk? And I think that’s where a lot of people wonder,” said Al Sturgeon, panellist and vice president of business development at MESH/diversity and co-founder at Expedition.

Bell Let’s Talk has been receiving backlash in recent years, with sound offs and editorials in The Globe and Mail, a 2017 article from CBC making the rounds, Signal, and some mental health advocates swearing off.

“You make the assumption that Bell Let’s Talk is supposed to help. Bell Let’s Talk is a business, a business of making money but all of this is done under the guise of health,” said Smith.

“Yesterday Bell talked the talk, today I wanted us to walk the walk.”

Smith is in the process of putting together a proposal for funding to begin a group for entrepreneurs to come and talk to one another in a safe space, as part of walking the walk.

Despite crediting the Bell Let’s Talk campaign with starting the conversation, he still thinks it’s a “smokescreen”.

“People want to experience our suffering. They want to see our suffering in order to be able to contextualize it,” Smith said.

“Everybody knows somebody with a disability or a mental health issue. Statistically, it’s impossible not to, but for some reason, we tend to look the other way.”

Stephanie Lynn Sirois is a freelance writer in Fredericton.