From grieving a parent to becoming a better parent: 22 industry leaders open up about mental health in Heart On My Sleeve storybook

The Mentally Healthy Change Group has released its second storybook as part of the Heart On My Sleeve movement, featuring 22 industry leaders writing vulnerably about the impact COVID-19 has had on their mental health.

The book includes multiple disclosures of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions, and PHD joint managing director Lucy Formosa-Morgan’s admission that, at the start of the working from home stretch, she was taking out her stress on her family.

The contributors to the storybook

Mars’ Joanna Lepore spoke about how fostering a dog has meant spending a lot of time caring for a “creature so desperate for it”, but “laugh[ing] and smil[ing] more than I have in five years.” Publicis Worldwide’s managing director Simone Waugh said she’s “now being the parent I always wanted to be”, Magnite’s Nikola Keshan wrote about being pregnant during the uncertainty of lockdown, and Nova’s national director of commercial strategy Stephanie Loupelis said that the answer for her “was to openly take some mental health days”.

“Anxiety makes you turn inward. You become obsessed with the idea people are judging you,” revealed Caitlin Lloyd, national head of strategy at Tribal.

“My lowest point came four weeks into lockdown. our wedding was due to take place in April, and watching that day come and go without celebrating with my loved ones hit me really hard.”

Michael Cali, national commercial director at Ooh Media, wrote: “In early April, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. They have given him ‘about three months’. I’ve seen him and spent time with him. But I haven’t been able to hug him or give him a kiss (Italians, it’s genetic).

“While he makes jokes about death as he compiles lists of who gets what tools from his garage, I know that deep down he is wondering how people will celebrate (not mourn) him, when the time comes. What will happen to the ‘big party’ he’s been mandating for years? More importantly, what happens to my mum, when the nearest shoulder to cry on has to be at least 1.5 metres away at all times?”

Then, the post-script: “Since writing this story my dad, Tony, passed away on 30 May. By the end, we’d kissed and we’d hugged. He was surrounded by my mum, sister and I when he passed, exactly as he wanted. An ease in restrictions from 1 June meant attendees at funerals increased from 20 to 50 people. His ‘party’ will be held in the months ahead when restrictions ease further.”

CEO of Heart on My Sleeve, Mitch Wallis, said: “Stories have the power to unify us through tough times – because they are a potent reminder that we can cope together. When we see an industry speak up about hardships of ambiguity in a time like COVID, we are given the certainty that we aren’t alone.”

The purpose of the collection of stories is to reduce the stigma associated with disclosing, and talking about, mental illness. Last week, the results of the industry’s second Mentally Healthy Survey, conducted pre-COVID-19, were released. 56% of the more than 1,500 respondents displayed mild to severe symptoms of depression, and 52% symptoms of anxiety. Yet, while the perception of stigma had improved, just 6% felt their company is highly effective in addressing mental health.

UnLtd’s chief marketing officer and co-chair of the Mentally Healthy Change Group, Nina Nyman, said she hopes the stories “create empathy around what others might be experiencing and encourage everyone to be honest when things are not okay”.

Pippa Chambers, who led the project and is part of the Mentally Healthy Change Group, added that the accounts are “eye opening and inspiring so a big thank you to everyone who took part. Hopefully this book will act as a catalyst for people to open up, share their stories too or ask for help when needed.”

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


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