08.Oct 2021

Atypical Depression: The Show Must Go On

As a founder, you want your startup to succeed. But even if there are enough resources to fuel your business’s engine, keep in mind that this car needs a mentally healthy driver. Eeducation on diseases like depression raise awareness, but is important to continue to educate ourselves. Because sometimes depression hides behind “business as usual”.


Most of us have a picture in our heads of what it looks like: depressed mood, no energy or interest in activities that the person previously enjoyed, hopelessness, and suicidal tendencies are amongst the most common symptoms. We picture a depressed person crying often, isolating themselves, tired and not able to take care of themselves or get out of bed at all. This is not the case with atypical depression, which is also called high functioning depression.


Current language uses the terms stress, depression, sadness and burnout are oftentimes not selectively. And while there are similarities or even overlap, mixing these terms is dangerous: It trivializes the disease of depression. That enforces stigma and prevents people from getting help.

Atypical Depression

An estimated 40% of depression is atypical depression (or depression with atypical features). People suffering from this type of depression don’t show any symptoms in public. Instead they even show behaviour that is opposite to the commonly known symptoms. They can be very successful entrepreneurs. It is still possible for them to work and care for their family.  They keep up with their social activities. That includes laughing, showing sympathy and supporting their friends emotionally. Their mood can improve over a short amount of time. That is why it is called high functional depression: The person functions in life.

But behind the curtain it looks different: Instead of sleeping less, there is constant tiredness, arms and legs feel heavy, and the social interaction is draining and exhausting. The fear of criticism and rejection is overpowering. The belief of being an imposter and not worthy of love, friendship or the current job position is strong. Even small tasks afford lots of energy. Symptoms can be severe and include the abuse of alcohol and drugs as well as thoughts of suicide.

Because people with high functioning depression manage their everyday life, they often do not recognize themselves that there might be a more severe problem at hand. They got used to exhaustion and negative thoughts. They feel uncomfortable asking for help because they are afraid they don’t appear  ill enough. That’s why they don’t feel justified to receive treatment. 

Let’s talk about depression

Someone not suffering from depression can be at a loss for the right words. Read German Accelerator’s blog article about what you can say to support someone or encourage them to open up.

What does that have to do with startups?

As a founder, you should have a close eye on your mental health to keep yourself, your employees and your business safe. Depression will kill the brilliance, creativity and productivity to create a successful startup. Founders belong to a very vulnerable group. They are twice as likely to suffer from depression, have psychiatric hospitalization and have suicidal thoughts. The likelihood of coping with symptoms by abusing substances is three times higher. And even on a macroeconomic level, the mental health of entrepreneurs plays a big role: startups drive social and global economies and create millions of jobs. If you want to know more about how to deal with your first crisis as a founder, read our interview with psychologist and founder Josch Hofferbert.


There are a lot of factors that possibly determine if someone will develop mental health issues. Some of the most effective ways to guard yourself seem too easy to be true: Exercise regularly in whatever form you enjoy most and have a balanced diet. This keeps a healthy balance of chemicals in your body. Ensure you have a strong social support system with reliable relationships. Reduce stress. Stress and depression are not the same. But mechanisms that prevent stress can also help prevent developing more serious symptoms and build up resilience.

Keep a close eye on yourself and the ones around you and don’t be fooled by a successful lifestyle: if you suffer from depression is not determined by the number of goals you reach but by what you experience on the inside.

Read here about startups who approach mental health in a new way. 

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