Black women continue to be the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurship isn’t always a choice for us, nor has it been easy.
Entrepreneurship impacts our mental health as we navigate systemic barriers to scale our businesses, financial instability and the pressures to succeed. For some, entrepreneurship may seem like a lane that absolves the pain many of us experience navigating corporate culture in pursuit of the C-Suite. However, transitioning from employee to owner takes a shift in mentality as responsibility increases. Without the best systems in place, being a founder can be a 24/7 experience. It’s also when Black women can neglect their wellness and experience triggers that disrupt their mental health.
ESSENCE spoke with three entrepreneurs who discovered different symptoms that affected their mental health. They share what steps they took to get well and how they created spaces to help other Black women find the mental peace and support needed to navigate entrepreneurship.
Shanti Das, founder of Silence the Shame
Das recalls the long nights burning the midnight oil by herself with no staff and limited funding to get Silence the Shame off the ground. “It’s a lot of odds against us initially, and that really leads to a lot of stress, exhaustion, and anxiety,” she said. The music industry veteran started to experience signs of depression after walking away from her role at Universal Motown Records and returning to her hometown of Atlanta. She was consulting and doing public speaking at the time, but money wasn’t coming in as she expected, and she was still trying to maintain the same executive lifestyle she had in New York City. “There are going to be a lot of financial ups and downs, which, you know, financial health is in direct correlation with our mental health, because when the money’s funny, so are your thoughts and your feelings, right?” Das explained. Not having a financial strategy, Das found herself close to losing her home twice.
Entrepreneurship has no direct path to success, and Das believes not knowing what success will look like or when it will come affects our mental health. “We often are not equipped with the tools that we need to thrive as entrepreneurs. We might not have the same access to resources and education and funders,” she shared. After the death of a friend took a toll on her emotional health and wellness, Das started to feel the crash and burn. “In 2015, I had experienced suicidal ideation, and that’s when I knew I needed to get the help that I needed,” she shared. She was diagnosed with depression by a psychiatrist and started taking antidepressants to help restabilize her mood and create balance. She came up with the idea of Silence the Shame in 2015 but officially launched the non-profit in 2016 to help with the education and awareness around mental health. She admits it was hard to get the foundation off the ground because she was new to managing her depression. One of the reasons for this is that she wasn’t consistently seeing a therapist. “I would encourage having a therapist as well because while you’re on antidepressants, it’s really good to couple that with talk therapy…to be able to have someone to talk through everything that you’re dealing with and that you’re going through,” Das explained.
Das believes in therapy for entrepreneurs because it’s essential to be equipped with tools to cope with being a Black woman entrepreneur. Healthcare accessibility can be expensive during the early stages of entrepreneurship. In that case, Das suggests looking into free or affordable options like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men and local community service boards. “There are some clinicians who are doing free therapy or doing what’s called charging on a sliding scale. That means that if you’re only making X amount of dollars, they’re only going to charge you a minimal amount for one therapy session,” she shared. Since dealing with her personal experience managing her mental health, Das knew that other people might need the resources to manage their own. It’s been six years since Das came up with the idea for Silence the Shame, and the organization has grown to include crisis response and wellness training, a podcast and events. This month they had a virtual gala to honor mental health advocates and raise money for the organization.
C. DeVone, DJ and podcast producer
DeVone has always been an advocate for mental wellness. It’s personal for her as her sister has had mild schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. She started to question whether she was experiencing depression when DeVone found it challenging to get started on projects after leaving her corporate job as an event planner in 2016. “It was to the point where I’m like, how can I advocate for people to live healthier and whole lives if I don’t know what’s going on with me,” she said.
DeVone knew she needed to find a therapist and dated three before finding the person that she liked. “I’m aware of my triggers now. When I notice that I’m taking a long time to do something, it is because I’m either mentally stuck or I’ve lost the passion for it. Three, I’m just not good at that,” DeVone shared. She later saw a physiatrist for a mental evaluation, where she learned that she has attention deficit disorder.
DeVone, who is a DJ, was managing both depression and ADHD while building her career. “One day, you have, you know, $200 coming in, and the next day, you may have $20,000 coming in, and you have to have the same mental capacity still,” she shared. Through her therapist’s help, she learned that it wasn’t just the fluctuating income that triggered her mental health. A client’s energy could disturb DeVone’s peace or even her home not having the lighting she needed to uplift her. That’s when she started to say “no” to specific opportunities and recently moved to Atlanta because New York City was affecting her wellness. “Your spirit is telling you you’re uncomfortable. That’s part of your mental health,” she said.
The rise of Black women entrepreneurs created more communities where we can engage, support and offer each other advice. It’s something that DeVone, who is also an audio producer, appreciates. “You really do have to be mentally prepared and have emotional intelligence, financial intelligence, and really surround yourself with people who will have a little bit more of an understanding as an entrepreneur,” she shared. Community and conversation are what inspired DeVone to start her podcast, Music, Men & My Mental. DeVone feels she is finally working on her purpose of merging the things that mean most to her: wellness, audio, and events. During the pandemic, she launched A Little Wellness, an Esty shop of wellness products and events that includes yoga in the park or boot camp and brunch themes.
Christina Rice, founder of OMNoire
At 21-years-old, Rice became an entrepreneur for the first time when she opened a boutique in Nashville and owned it for four years until she felt burnt out. She went to New York City to pursue a PR career, but she decided to operate her own agency after a layoff. Rice did that for seven years before she hit another wall. “The myriad of stressors that entrepreneurs go through again, there’s that point where you have very high highs and very low lows,” she shared. Rice shares that she experienced those feelings throughout her 20 years of entrepreneurship, but she sought some help through yoga this time. A year later, she started therapy. She describes therapy as being the icing on the cake of her healing. “I have my spiritual practice, and now I have my mental health practice. So both of them work in conjunction for me to help me to create the practice of healing and deeper spiritual work that would help me carry me through these dark times,” she shared.
Rice took her yoga practice to the next level by committing to become an instructor in 2015. “Part of my healing journey was to expose other Black women to a modality that helped me get out of a dark place. That was during the time, of course, that I did notice that there was just a lack of representation in the space,” she said. She decided to create an Instagram page to highlight Black women in the wellness space and called it OMNoire. It grew, and so did a community that wanted to engage offline. She hosted her first retreat in October 2017 in Grenada, where over 53 Black women attended. Then, she decided to walk away from PR and focus her energy on building the community.
Rice shares that she made that decision by following her intuition and hopes more Black women learn to lean on their gut feelings regarding their business. Her advice to entrepreneurs is not to fight or force a career or business pivot when it no longer serves you. “Do the work to become more self-aware and to trust yourself. The only way to do that is to get deeper into your spiritual and mental health practice so that the path becomes a lot clearer to get to the answers that you need,” she shared.
Finding the tools to help manage challenging moments in life, including entrepreneurship, is essential. Rice suggested creating a toolbox for coping and then using tools like yoga, meditation, journaling, crystals or being in nature to pull us out of the low moments. She finds ways to expose the OMNoire community to different healing modalities because each spiritual journey is unique. “There are so many different tools that we can tap into. It’s just our responsibility to be curious about what those are and not reject them because they’re unfamiliar with them. But try them and discover if it’s right for you or if it’s not,” she explained.
We’re never alone in navigating the pressures that come with entrepreneurship. Seek help by finding a therapist. Join a community for support. Lastly, understand what triggers you and find the right tools to help you manage your mental health.