Estimated reading time: 21 minute(s)
In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced business landscape, CEOs, leaders, and other high-level executives commonly have the weight of immense responsibility on their shoulders. They are often expected to manage teams, make critical decisions, and ensure organizational success at every step. Amid the pursuit of their professional achievements, the world often overlooks the executive mental health of such people.
Surveys suggest that approximately 50% of top-level CEOs and executives go through high levels of stress, with one out of every five experiencing levels marked as extreme or high. However, such executives often hesitate to seek help out of fear of stigma and the potential negative effect this may have on their otherwise successful careers.
Why Executive Mental Health Matters
In addition to being extremely devastating at a personal level, poor CEO mental health can also have knock-on effects, which directly damage the business along with its culture. When leaders come under pressure, they develop shorter fuses and face troubles with attention and focus. Additionally, such executive members become more defensive, risk-averse, and erratic in their decision-making and thinking, eventually leading to burnout. 
Facing constant pressure with no healthy way to channel it out can also push CEOs to make less value-driven decisions. Because the underlying poor mental health reduces their psychological safety, such people are much less willing to own their mistakes. Following their footsteps, other employees repeat the same behavior and never own their mistakes out of fear of repercussions. Consequently, the whole culture of such organizations becomes fear-based.
When such a culture is promoted, many senior colleagues and executives feel they are not respected, valued, or listened to. Over time, this may force them to shut down and even give up, causing a ripple effect throughout the company. Ultimately, this causes unhealthy power dynamics, like manipulation and game-playing, to come to the fore, tearing the organization’s foundations and forcing it toward imminent failure.
Declining Executive Mental Health: What are the Reasons?
Following are some reasons why executives from all across the country commonly face declining mental health. 
The loneliness of leadership
Isolation is one of the biggest struggles that CEOs face regarding their jobs. These executive members often make difficult decisions in a vacuum while shielding their employees and executive team from the unpleasant realities that their business faces. In other cases, they filter out the stress coming toward the company, allowing the colleagues to face some level of stress but not all. Such behaviors may force them to keep their tensions to themselves without turning to anyone for support or advice. Such circumstances are particularly stressful for CEOs who are new to the job or have few peers in the industry.
Due to a lack of communication and collaboration with the team, a CEO’s judgment may become clouded, and the quality of their business decisions may deteriorate.
The pressure to perform
Almost all CEOs are under consistent pressure to perform well and deliver good results. They are always answerable to board members, shareholders, and employees, all with high-performance expectations. Such high pressure can overwhelm any CEO and easily lead to burnout if they are not careful.
The stigma of mental health
The world has recently had a great deal of success in terms of understanding and accepting the value of mental health. Many campaigns have been carried out that have successfully reduced the stigma linked with mental health. Despite decades of progress, a significant amount of work remains to be done, especially regarding how professional people approach mental health care and tackle burnout. Many CEOs and other executive members hesitate to seek help for any mental health struggles because they fear that it might be a sign of weakness. Others believe that asking for mental support may make them appear incompetent for the job and negatively affect their career. Such a mindset triggers a negative vicious cycle where a CEO avoids seeking mental health support and continues suffering in silence and isolation, which, in turn, worsens their mental health struggles.
How To Support Executive Mental Health in CEOs
Considering the multiple stressors that CEOs and other executives face on a day-to-day basis, their mental health can easily take a toll and lead to long-term deterioration and other side effects. Following are the tips to support CEO mental health and reduce the incidence of resignation due to stress and anxiety.
Normalization of Mental Health Awareness
A primary component of positively impacting executive mental health is the creation of an environment where CEOs can openly talk about their psychiatric health along with any issues they are dealing with. This will allow them to recognize and acknowledge all issues, making it easier for others to open up, share their personal experiences, and get the support they need.
Provision of Mental Health First Aid
All organizations must develop and promote mental health first aid training to ensure that all employees, including CEOs and other top-level executives, who need help get adequate support. Having a mental health first aider in a team means they can spot early signs of a mental health issue and provide immediate help. Moreover, these first aiders can also guide employees and employers toward seeking the right support. Lastly, forming a mental health first aid team can also decrease the stigma revolving around mental health problems and encourage everyone to speak up and get help for their issues.
Developing a Nurturing Culture
Each organization must arrange training sessions to teach leaders and employees about self-managing their situations and engaging in regular self-care. These sessions must highlight the individual benefits of engaging in self-care and the benefits this practice can offer to the organization and its business dealings. The workforce remains the biggest asset of every organization, and CEOs and other executives lead them. Hence, they must prioritize their well-being and self-care to guide others properly.
Provision of Support Mechanisms
All CEOs and executive leaders must have access to appropriate support channels, including mentors, coaches, or any third-party support system. Giving these members access to a certain go-to board member within the organization to conduct regular one-to-one sessions is also a good tip for improving CEO mental health.
is being a CEO stressful?
As one of the top-ranking officials of any company, CEOs have to manage many stakeholders, including customers, employees, shareholders, and investors. This alone can be highly demanding, among countless other duties and pressures. Consequently, most CEOs have little time to relax or indulge in self-care and may feel under constant scrutiny. Many of them also report an inability to keep their guard down and end up developing mental health issues like anxiety and burnout.
What percentage of CEOs are narcissists?
Narcissism remains a common type of mental health issue in CEOs, among many others. Statistics suggest that up to 18 percent of CEOs may fit the criteria for being narcissists in comparison to the 5 percent of the rest of the U.S. population.
What mental illness does Elon Musk have?
As a CEO, Elon Musk also has multiple mental health issues. He has admitted to having Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism spectrum disorder. However, many consider Elon Musk to have a personality disorder called histrionic personality disorder. Also known as HPD, this Elon Musk personality disorder has been associated with narcissism, manipulation, and attention-seeking behaviors.
1 Moran EJ. CEO burnout: Shift priorities to manage stress. Hospitals. 1990 May 5;64(9):67.
2 Sirén C, Patel PC, Örtqvist D, Wincent J. CEO burnout, managerial discretion, and firm performance: The role of CEO locus of control, structural power, and organizational factors. Long Range Planning. 2018 Dec 1;51(6):953-71.