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My experience with online counselling inspired me to offer it to all our entrepreneurs

Abdullah Snobar

Paul Steward

Abdullah Snobar is executive director of the DMZ, a tech incubator at Ryerson University.

There's a misconception that people who are Type-A personalities and successful are free from mental health challenges. If a person has a busy, fulfilling life and looks accomplished and happy, they must not struggle with mental health issues.

It's a misconception that's reinforced every time I browse my Instagram feed, LinkedIn profile, and even walk past a sea of smiling faces at various conferences. Everywhere I look, I see no obvious signs of mental health stresses. Herein lies the problem.

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When a colleague is coughing, sneezing, or generally looks unwell, we all agree that this person should go home to recover. With mental health, it's not that simple. There's nothing to see. And yet, 72 per cent of entrepreneurs are dealing with mental health concerns, according to a 2015 study from the University of California.

In my position as executive director of the DMZ at Ryerson University, I see that many entrepreneurs – particularly ones who are hyper-focused on success – are still not talking openly about mental health issues.

Many of them work exceptionally long hours, have small teams (meaning they do multiple jobs), work second jobs or are still in school, and constantly worry about their responsibilities and "making it." Simply put, the weight of the world is on their shoulders, yet many struggle to talk about what's facing them for fear they'd be viewed as weak or failing. Ultimately, they fear the impact of disclosing a problem and instead choose to remain silent.

With this as our cultural reality in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, I realized that helping solve problems we can't see is just as important as solving those we can. At the DMZ, we wanted to take a step to make this a priority. The same way we offer entrepreneurs access to accounting support or legal support, we need to offer them support for their own mental health, which is fundamental to everything else they do.

So I took a personal approach to addressing this challenge and sought out my own support. Besides a visit to a psychiatrist's office, there are alternatives, like harnessing the power of technology in a particularly innovative way: online therapy.

Recognizing the potential benefits, I scheduled counselling sessions through TranQool – an online tool where you can connect with accredited cognitive behavioural therapists. My 7:30 a.m. sessions focus on managing stress and emotions through learning techniques that help me cope with different situations.

Through this program, I learned how to control overwhelming thoughts and become more reflective on stressful situations. The experience was so positive that we're now offering access to this tool for all of our entrepreneurs and staff.

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Online therapy might not be a fit for everyone, but for our startups and many other people who can't seem to find the time to escape the office, tools like TranQool can help.

By embracing technology to create solutions to ongoing challenges, we'll increase the number of people who can access support for mental health. By encouraging entrepreneurs to talk about their mental health concerns – to make the invisible visible – we'll help them succeed. And with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, this is indeed something to celebrate.

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