I’m sick of industry leaders supporting R U OK? Day, but staying silent the rest of the year

On R U OK? Day and World Mental Health Day, Marnie Vinall felt as though the industry finally, collectively, cared about mental health. But those days pass, everyone goes back to their desks, and no-one mentions it again, until the next day rolls around.

It’s two months since R U OK? Day and one month since Mental Health Day. But for all the noise these days made, nothing much has actually happened since.

These days push the needle forward and force the industry to confront its perceptions of mental health. But while companies and people in leadership positions talk loudly about the importance of mental health on days such as R U OK? Day and Mental Health Day, there’s very little to be heard from them for the rest of the year. And meanwhile, one in five Australians are going to work with mental health issues each and every day, many without the support they need.

I wrote a piece for R U OK? Day, opening up about my depression, anxiety and panic attacks in the office, and how my company treated me with kindness and consideration. This should be an industry standard. When my colleague is sent home for a migraine without judgement, so should I when I have a panic attack and can’t make it through the working day. The response I got to that piece within the industry was heart-warming and encouraging.

It was as if, for a day or two, everyone really cared about mental health.

“Not enough is being done”, we collectively agreed. But then everyone went back to their desks and got on with their work, not mentioning it again until World Mental Health Day a month later.

Recently, we had a 30-degree day, and while the whole office sweltered, I had a heat pack gripped to my chest. When a co-worker asked me if I was okay, I responded that I was feeling anxious and it helped to keep me calm. It’s only because I wrote and shared my story two months ago that I was confident enough to talk so openly and casually about my mental health. But for a lot of my peers in the industry, I know this isn’t the case.

I would hope that most people in agencies and in-house marketing teams could take the day off if they were having a severe mental episode. But when it comes to everyday mental health issues, we just aren’t doing enough groundwork.

When my psychologist recently asked me what I do when my anxiety arises at work, I didn’t have an answer. I can’t go for a walk if I’ve already taken my lunch break. It’s not as if I can lie down on the ground and do deep yoga breaths in the middle of the office. I certainly can’t bail on client meetings, even if I have aggressive butterflies in my tummy making me feel like a shark is about to attack.

Fortunately, if it got bad, I know I could flag it with my boss and go home. But across the working world, it’s like we don’t know what to do about everyday mental illness because we haven’t all been trained.

We don’t just need employers and leaders to declare that they care about mental health and their doors are always open. We need to have actual steps in place.

Employees should have monthly, if not weekly, one-on-one mental wellbeing sessions where they can discuss their mental health in a safe space. A lot of my friends and peers in the industry feel as though they can’t talk to their superiors about their mental health. So, space needs to be created where they can talk to someone without having to worry they’ll be looked down upon for speaking up.

New employees need to be able to flag any mental illnesses they have, without fear of judgement, as soon as they’re on-boarded. And everyone needs to have their own strategies in place to tackle anxiety, depression or other illnesses when symptoms arise in the office. Superiors need to know about these strategies; if an employee needs to take a 10-minute break outside to breathe, they should be able to without judgement or side-glances.

It should also be mandatory for anyone in leadership positions to undertake mental health training. Companies need to have seminars on how to provide the best support they can to their employees and co-workers. And, most importantly, we need to have regular conversations about mental health.

It’s not enough to agree that more should be done. I’m sick of seeing industry leaders declare their support for mental health issues on pivotal days like R U OK? Day and Mental Health Day but stay silent for the rest of the year.

A friend of mine recently said to me: “You can take a mental health day because you have that relationship with your boss. I don’t have that.” This broke my heart. We all should be getting support, every day. Not just a lucky few. And we need to do better.

Marnie Vinall is a marketing assistant at 3 Phase Marketing


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