‘It’s okay to not be okay… as long as not being okay doesn’t affect the company," tweeted Female Copywriter on this past World Mental Health Day. This tweet sums up what we’re all thinking but no one is saying.
One in four people struggle with mental illness. Look around you. If we’re all together in this, why aren’t we talking about it more?
When we have a toothache, we go to the dentist to get it fixed. And when we have a bad cough, we go to the drug store to get cough syrup. Our first instinct is to treat an illness immediately. When we experience anxiety and depression, we’re afraid of people finding out we see a psychiatrist. Is seeking help for a chemical imbalance frowned upon?
I’ve seen far too many headlines that read ‘creative burnout is inevitable.’ It’s not just the long hours, it’s the pressure to say yes to everything. As creatives, we constantly talk about how many projects we’re on or how many weekends we’ve worked over the past month, as if our success aligns with our workload. We have more desk dinners than date nights. Anything for a Cannes lion, right? This is the expectation of the industry we work in, so we accept it. We use humor to make light out of the situation. Instead of holding corporate companies responsible, we cope through memes and have a quick cry in the bathroom in between two IRs.
When we choose to ignore it, our value of work and productivity suffers. As someone who struggles with anxiety and ADHD, I can openly say that not putting my health first has caused my performance to suffer.
Earlier this year, I started to taper off of anxiety medication I had been on for eight-plus years. The withdrawals hit harder than I imagined. In hindsight, I should have taken time off, but I was afraid and embarrassed. I was afraid that my boss would have seen me as weak or incapable of taking on the work, that I would no longer be put on any exciting or challenging briefs. I was embarrassed that I had to be medicated in the first place just to feel ‘normal.’ I spent more time trying to conceal my pain and sneaking in doctor’s appointments around my schedule.
What can we do about this?
Get more industry leaders to address the elephant in the room. Jessica Walsh, founder of &Walsh, not only opened up about her past struggles with eating disorders, anxiety and depression, she created Let’s Talk About Mental Health, a platform to help end the stigma. Jezz Chung, Diversity and Engagement Lead at Anomaly, hosts #OnMyMindMondays, a series created to share tools, tips, resources, rituals and thoughts on how we can take better care of our minds. Mental health itself is difficult to talk about even with your spouse or a close friend. We need more leaders who are willing to be this vulnerable.
Let’s stop bragging about how slammed we are. More projects doesn’t equal more success. Can we start rewarding people for leaving at 5pm to live their lives and be inspired? Instead of judging our peers?
Managers and creative directors, start listening. If one of your employees confides in you about mental health, do not dismiss their feelings with ‘you’ll be okay.’ Try saying something like ‘I hear you. How can I set you up for success and make work more comfortable for you?’ Listen and adjust your workplace to your workers.
Agencies, please stop positioning free yoga in the office as checking the box off the mental health initiative. Talk to your employees. Do the research. Find out how to make work more comfortable for everyone. Seventy percent of people don’t use the resources available to them. This is because we don’t know about them or we’re embarrassed to use them.
If your agency offers mental health resources, make them known to your employees. Normalize these resources by positioning them the same way as childcare resources. Partner with an organization like NABS and start improving the wellbeing of your employees. Mental health is not temporary.
We can’t sit back and wait until someone takes their own life to do something. It’s time to remove the Band-AID and start listening to your wellbeing. And believe it or not, emotional intelligence is known to improve brain chemistry, allowing you to have a clear headspace, which results in better creative ideas and better work.
Hear that, c-suite? If you’re going to do something about mental health, at least do it for better business.
Victoria Rosselli is an Art Director at FCB Chicago.