Special Group creative Mark Starmach launches mental health initiative Thoughts for the Dark

Content warning: This article discusses mental health.

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Mark Starmach, a creative at Special Group Australia, has launched ‘Thoughts For The Dark‘, a mental health initiative collating phrases and sayings people tell themselves which give them hope in times of darkness.

In its early stages, Starmach is seeking people to add their own thoughts to the project, but has a vision for the collection to become a resource to help others in times of hardship.

Mark Starmach

“Different people and organisations have put their hands up to help, and with that comes different ideas of how this might live. So, we started talking about a coffee table book that’s like a limited edition collection which funds go to a mental health organisation,” Starmach told Mumbrella.

“And, even extended thoughts to an interactive art installation that’s set in a pitch black room, possibly a website or an app that refreshes with a different thought for the dark.”

The idea for Thoughts For The Dark was borne out of Starmach’s experience with insomnia caused by anxiety.

“It’s a very lonely experience when you’re stuck in your own anxious mind hours on end, unable to talk to anyone because everyone’s asleep,” he said.

“And it was in those sorts of moments that over time I gradually began to develop these thoughts that I could draw on that helped on those sleepless nights.”

The thoughts can be phrases people have picked up from different cultures, derived from personal stories or taken from books and television programs. The submission asks for the thought, what it means, and the story behind it.

People can attribute their names to their thoughts or submit anonymously.

One submission from ‘Mother of four’ recounts a moment she reached breaking point when her husband commented they were out of Vegemite, as the story behind her thought, “Could we just be out of Vegemite?”.

Another contributor, known as Jade, reminds herself that “everyone is winging it.”

Starmach said he wants Thoughts For The Dark to “at least start in the creative community as sort of like a creative solution to a bit of a universal problem, but then grow into a more broader public resource that comes alive.”

“I think the advertising industry is a good industry to have a stab at solving this problem,” he said.

“There’s already so many good initiatives… UnLtd and Mentally Healthy, within the industry. But it’s our day job to come up with creative solutions to problems, and this is a big problem.”

Last year’s Mentally Healthy survey of members of Australia’s media, marketing and creative industry found that 56% of respondents displayed mild to severe symptoms of depression and 52% symptoms of anxiety.

“There’s a lot of research, which for better or worse, points out that creative ability or creative inclination is linked to mental ill health and I think it’s just a quirk of the type of people who are drawn to marketing and creative careers in the first place,” Stamarch says of why mental ill health is so prevalent in the industry.

“They, I think, tend to be a bit more imaginative, have vibrant inner worlds. And I think that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Your mind is open to ideas, both positive and constructive ideas, but also self-destructive and negative and depressive and self-defeating ideas.”

As the industry becomes more transparent and empathetic towards mental health, Starmach said the way forward is opening up the discussion within agencies and leaders leading by example.

“I think what goes a long way to helping is somehow building in opportunities for teams and leaders to have heart-to-hearts about their mental health. Take time off if need be. But somehow building a safeguard so that people aren’t afraid of being seen as weak or incapable of doing their job,” he explained.

“The impact of someone in senior management or on the C-suite taking time off for stress leave or mental health leave has a really positive ripple effect through the organisation, no matter what industry it’s in.”

People in the industry can get involved in Thoughts For The Dark by contributing what they find gives them hope in times of darkness. Donations of resources, time, creative ideas and services is also welcome. Those interested can contact Starmach on LinkedIn or Twitter.


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