Product Hunt is using its megaphone to tackle startup depression

It’s no secret that Product Hunt is the Pied Piper of startup land. Founders would probably follow the company anywhere, since the so-called Reddit for new apps and gadgets gives them exposure to media, investors and potential users.

Now, Product Hunt is using this influence for a social cause: Mental health. It’s teamed up with fellow Y Combinator graduate 7 Cups of Tea to offer a series of seminars on depression and anxiety led by YC’s Jessica Livingston, Tech Stars’ Brad Feld and‘s Jerry Colonna. It’s also urging founders and members of the startup community to use 7 Cups of Tea’s network of volunteer listeners.

“We’re lending the Product Hunt name to help get the word out,” Product Hunt staffer and early employee Erik Torenberg told me. “After the happy hour we realized we have a voice in tech and we can speak about things that matter to us.” The company doesn’t want to stray too far from its original mission of encouraging people to make things, but this endeavor fits with that goal.

In a blog post announcing the partnership, Torenberg explained why he thinks mental health is a crucial issue for makers, founders and people in the startup community:

Startups can be particularly lonely because there’s a huge cognitive dissonance?…We pretend to be killing it all the time, so we don’t talk about how we’re struggling. Because we don’t talk about how we’re struggling, we don’t know that other people are struggling, too.

7 Cups of Tea, Product Hunt’s partner, is a company that matches trained listeners with people who want to talk to someone. It’s a free service for now, making it a more accessible form of therapy, albeit sometimes with less qualified listeners. People who call into 7 Cups of Tea with serious, immediate issues are escalated to professional hotlines. Its “startups” division is the company’s first thematic category, complete with prerecorded video lessons.

Product Hunt and 7 Cups of Tea aren’t the only ones trying to discuss entrepreneurial mental health. Brad Feld has been writing about it on and off for years now and YC’s Sam Altman recently penned a blog post about depression and anxiety. There’s a subtle shift towards normalizing the discussion of these issues in the tech industry.

“We want a lasting community of people who think this is important,” Torenberg said, when asked about his hope for the program. “A lot of people deal with this.”

Depression linked to office injustices, not work load

Recent research shows that stress and depression related to work are primarily related to a sense of injustice and inequality in the workplace, not high workload.

Matias Brødsgaard Grynderup, a psychologist at Aarhus University and one of the researchers, said,

We may have a tendency to associate depression and stress with work pressure and workload; however, our study shows that the workload actually has no effect on workplace depression. This suggests that the risk of workplace depression cannot be minimised by changing the workload. […] When high levels of work pressure and depression appear to be linked in people’s consciousness, it is not because a heavy workload increases the risk of depression. Or that’s not what we found in our study. Instead, depression can make work assignments appear insurmountable, even though the depression was not caused by the workload.

The study was based on questionnaires from 4,500 public employees in  Denmark, and the researchers also interviewed most to determine who was suffering from clinical depression. What they determined is a strong correlation with a sense of workplace injustice — people being treated unfairly — and a lack of clarity about management objectives and organizational dynamics.

One of the most critical aspects of turning down the pressures in the workplace if making as much as possible transparent. In the most progressive companies, that can include information about pay scales, bonuses, performance reviews, and so on. The convenient fiction about keeping such matters private is that employees don’t want that information shared, but the dirty secret is that it allows inequity to go unexamined. For example, in many industries women continue to be paid less for doing equivalent work as men, and this is likely to persist if management opts to conceal it. A great deal of what goes on in business as being ‘the way things are done, here’ can be better cast as ‘the way things are done to people, here’.


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