Mental disorders and entrepreneurship

Mental disorders are usually studied as problems in need of remedies like medication, interventions, or counseling. However, some entrepreneurship researchers have suggested that mental disorders can be positively associated with entrepreneurship.

The idea is that a disorder may be due to a mismatch between person and context. Perhaps people who may have mental disorders preventing them from, for example, taking a cubical job, may thrive in a more entrepreneurial environment. Maybe entrepreneurship is an outlet allowing people that might be dysfunctional employees to succeed (See Wiklund et al., 2018). Bogan et al. (2013) suggest that mood disorders cause difficulties for people in the job market and therefore leads them to pursue self-employment. Their data corroborate this.

Some mental disorders may also confer advantages upon their hosts, at least for some entrepreneurial tasks. For instance, Wiklund et al. (2016) find that individual with ADHD may be more likely thrive doing fast-paced multitasking in environments that require creativity. Wiklund et al. (2018) argue that mental disorders require individuals to develop coping mechanisms and resilience that can be transferred into entrepreneurship. Logan (2009) suggests that individuals with dyslexia may be more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs because it encourages them to delegate of tasks (even simple reading and writing tasks).

This new literature provides a positive spin on some mental disorders. It remains unclear though if mental disorders help with business startup but hinder subsequent business growth. It is also not clear if having a little or a lot of a particular disorder is helpful. For instance, being a little bit dyslexic might boost entrepreneurship, while being very dyslexic might be disabling. More research is needed!

All entrepreneurship theory categories

Other psychological theories of entrepreneurship that might interest you:

Additional reading:

Wiklund, J., Hatak, I., Patzelt, H., and Shepherd, D. A. (2018). Mental Disorders in the Entrepreneurship Context: When being different can be an advantage. Academy of Management Perspectives, 32(2), 182-206.

Wiklund, J., Patzelt, H., and Dimov, D. (2016). Entrepreneurship and psychological disorders: How ADHD can be productively harnessed. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 6, 14-20.

Logan, J. (2009). Dyslexic entrepreneurs: the incidence; their coping strategies and their business skills. Dyslexia, 15(4), 328-346.

Bogan, V. L., Fertig, A. R., and Just, D. R. (2014). Self-Employment and Mental Health.

An interesting video looking at depression research.