Mental Health Needs a Mask of Its Own
Hi, my name is Kriti and I’m someone who has suffered from mental health issues for over a decade. I’m also someone who chose a career in an industry that shows greater signs of mental illness when compared to the national average (Mentally Healthy 2020).
The media, marketing and advertising industries thrive only due to our brains and creativity being placed under immense amounts of stress and pressure. We’re in a cutthroat industry, what can be considered a genius idea one day can be placed on the chopping block the next. Which is why I believe our employers and industry need to take some responsibility for our mental welfare. At Magnum we’re incredibly lucky in the sense that the company does acknowledge the mental health risks in the profession. From a supportive human resources team, to a mentorship program where you can chat about anything from work deadlines to the meaning of life.
The problem is, that our industry has talked about mental illness more times than I can possibly count. Every year around R U OK Day, Suicide Prevention Day, Mental Health Month, or any of the other calendar occasions we’ve created to bring light to the issue, we put forward the same two cents. Usually it involves the importance of office yoga (which don’t get me wrong I absolutely love).
Now don’t get me wrong, these initiatives to bring together the workplace are nice for some people, but mental health isn’t a one size fits all situation. What works for one of your employees could in fact be detrimental to another. Clear guidelines and objectives between management and employees, appropriate resources and client allocation, manageable workloads across appropriate hours, and no longer wearing long overtime as a badge of honour is what’s really important. A great example of a process to help you determine what's best for your business is the workplace mental health and wellbeing courses provided by Black Dog Institute. These programs are designed to provide skills, resources and services to help you work out areas of opportunity and excellence in your team’s mental health. At Magnum we are currently in the process of doing this and have made amazing progress in the conversations surrounding mental health in the workplace.
Holistically, there is some progress in the industry. The one positive thing that has come out of COVID-19 is the move to more flexible work arrangements. Staffers are no longer confined to presenting their bubbly happy selves in an open office where everyone is watching their every move. We’re allowing more freedom to work in ways that are best for the individual. This is also something we’ve done at Magnum, employees are encouraged to come into the office two to three days a week, or whenever they feel best, and are offered flexible start and end times. Personally I’ve been really lucky with the support that Magnum has offered this year as I’ve been allowed to work from home from an entirely different state, allowing me to do what’s best for my mental health and also continue working.
On the opposite end of the spectrum however is the breakdown of our daily routines. Living in a virtual world has created a number of problems of its own. There’s little difference between an already consuming career and one’s bedroom. What was once a distinct separation of church and state has now melded into answering emails while making lunch and working from the same spot you once relaxed in. Clear boundaries need to be set by both the workplace and the individual in order to not only maintain one’s sanity but also perform effectively (Mentally Healthy 2020).
Additionally, employees are feeling more disconnected than ever and working from home indefinitely has raised new mental health concerns. Not only are we a creative industry but we’re also a largely extroverted bunch. At the start of lockdown virtual drinks and game nights were the norm for businesses. But with the rise of lockdown fatigue and flexibility in working arrangements the cohesive efforts to conduct and attend these events, both from an employer and employee perspective, have diminished significantly (Mi3 2020).
All of the things I’ve mentioned aren't brand new pieces of information. We’re all aware of the factors leading to mental health issues in the industry. What I believe the actual problem is, is that we’re often only having the first conversation with an employee when they’re already struggling.
Employers need to consistently make it clear and support their employees. A one off mental wellbeing session per year isn’t going to cut it. Taking a preventative approach where you recognise and value the mental health of an individual can go a long way into making sure that when and if they are struggling, they feel comfortable reaching out. Normalise treating a bad mental health day the same as if they had the flu. The demand to always be seen fit, healthy and present can have devastating long-term effects. Remove the pressure to always be switched on, it's normal to not be performing at 100% effectiveness, 100% of the time. Magnum has an on call counselor and an open door policy that’s made clear to every employee not only when they start at the company but through key times of stress such as the onset of the pandemic and the holiday season. This continued level of support goes a long way into ensuring our company and its employees feel comfortable in raising any issues of concern.
This change comes from the top down. As marketers we’re not only responsible to change the culture towards mental health in greater society, but also in our organisations. Our job is to communicate effectively, so why are we struggling to communicate the importance of mental wellbeing internally? It’s not good enough to have a plan only for when someone gets sick. We’re currently wearing masks to prevent getting ‘traditionally’ sick, we also need strategies to prevent getting mentally sick.
If you or someone you care about needs support, please contact:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
By Social & Digital Executive Kriti Gupta