You’re Not Alone

January 30, 2018 | By: Jon Jackson

The Mental Health Of Canada’s Entrepreneurs and Funders.

Sue Miller has been active in the Canadian and Alberta innovation ecosystem since the early 2000s and has been the CEO of seven successful companies ranging in size from $3 million to $1.3 billion. Sue’s contributions to Canada’s economy are obvious—she’s created jobs and has advanced the life sciences and information and communications technology sectors.

Sue was the CEO of her latest early-stage company and had just wrapped up the successful closing of its first round of financing when she attempted suicide.

“I was released from hospital a month later, with a bipolar diagnosis and a prescription,” Miller explains.  “My family was shocked, I resigned from the company, and my self-confidence was shattered.”

Research shows that mental illness is more prevalent among entrepreneurs, says Miller.

M.A. Freeman’s research indicates that entrepreneurs have 50% higher incidence of diagnosed mental illness, and are six times more likely to have a bipolar diagnosis, as Miller points out, a diagnosis that carries a 50% risk of attempted suicide.

After her suicide attempt, Miller began a quest to get information and support to understand her situation, rebuild her life, and avoid relapse in future.

That quest led Miller to becoming one of the first people in Alberta trained as a Mental Health Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) and then as a CPS trainer. Certified Peer Specialists are people with lived experience of recovery from mental health concerns, trained to help others with their recovery.

Miller has used the training and experience as a leadership coach to speak about mental health and to develop a 10-week Mental Wellness Recovery Program. The program has delivered over 320 group sessions in the Calgary area.

Rebecca Giffen is the Executive Director of the Venture Capital Association of Alberta (VCAA) and says the Alberta ecosystem has been contending with mental health issues.

“The VCAA has a history with members struggling with mental health. We have lost two members to suicide in the last five years and we also know of others in the periphery of our industry have shared the same fate.”

The VCAA wants their members to talk about this issue and know that they are not alone. The topic of mental health will be covered by Sue Miller in Calgary this June, at Invest Canada ’18, CVCA’s annual conference.  The VCAA is hosting the 2018 conference in partnership with the CVCA.

“We encourage our members to talk to each other and to reach out to available resources, such as Sue Miller and those through the Canadian Mental Health Association,” explains Giffen. “Facilitating educational seminars and encouraging open communication will hopefully work to de-stigmatize the issue and reduce the prevalence of tragic outcomes.”

“Developing Mental Resilience for the Relentless Pace,” will be taking place during an exclusive session for general partners at Invest Canada ’18 and “will not be about avoiding stress,” says Miller.

“It’s about learning the impact that stress has on our brains and taking action to prevent cortisol brain injury. Chronic high cortisol triggers mental health issues and exacerbates any existing mental health concerns like depression, anxiety and bipolar,” explains Miller. “These conditions can also lead people to self-medicate which is probably why entrepreneurs also have three times the incidence of substance abuse.”

The Warning Signs

While the topic will be covered at the conference in June, there are some warning signs to be aware of, that can be identified in a colleague or yourself.

“Entrepreneurs are experts at projecting that we are ok,” Miller concedes. “It’s required to obtain investment, win customers and inspire employees. So, it can be difficult to tell if your colleague is headed for mental health trouble. Even if you recognize it in someone else, it’s a difficult area to offer advice.”

Miller points to these signs to be keenly aware of:

An increase of

  • negative perception and thoughts;
  • impatience;
  • tension;
  • urgency;
  • expectation of perfection from yourself and others, and;
  • suicidal thoughts.

A reduction of

  • concentration;
  • memory;
  • enjoyment;
  • sleep;
  • ability to control emotions and reactions;
  • positive social interactions, and;
  • ability to learn.

Offering support can be key in helping to save the life of a colleague or loved one. Miller presents some guidance on how to approach this situation.

“It can be very helpful to listen—and acknowledge how the person feels—without offering counter-arguments or advice. This simple act can help someone feel less isolated and more relaxed for the time that they are with you. That break in the stress and isolation cycle is the gift that a friend can offer.”

If you need immediate assistance call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital.

For mental health support, here is a full list of resources provided by the Government of Canada.


The VCAA hosted the inaugural Eric Schmadtke cycle event during September 2017. Eric lost his battle with mental illness in the fall of 2016 and the event recognizes all the wonderful things he contributed to the Alberta ecosystem, his family, and the world in general. Funds raised from the event go to benefit his family trust and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

The VCAA also presents, on an annual basis, the Rod Charko Service Award. The Rod Charko Services Award recognizes an individual that has gone above and beyond for the technology industry in Alberta. Rod lost his battle with mental illness in 2012.

For more information on VCAA events, visit the VCAA website.


If you would like to submit an idea for content, contribute to an article, or are interested in submitting an op-ed, contact the CVCA’s editorial department here.