The ad industry’s mental health crisis is going to get worse before it gets better

Prior to Covid, more than half the people in our industry were facing mental health challenges, a figure which is sure to have increased in the past two years. Hatched’s Virginia Scully explains how we can all make a difference.

This article discusses mental health issues. If you or someone you care about needs support, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636. In an emergency, call 000.

Ten years ago, I got a call from my brother late at night. He was calling to tell me my 26-year-old nephew had taken his own life. We had no idea he was unwell.

Despite some challenges in life – he lost his mum to cancer when he was only a boy – on the surface, he looked to be doing well. He was working as a chef. He’d bought a car and was saving to buy a home.

But he hid his feelings and buried the hurt until it was unbearable. For those of us left behind, living with the ‘not knowing’ is hard. How do you forgive yourself for not taking the time to dig more deeply into his reality? Could small steps, better questions, better listening and staying close saved his life? They absolutely could have.

I’ve been passionate about looking after my mental health and that of others ever since.

With everything that’s going on in the world right now, the level of anxiety we are living with is elevated. We need to make mental health a priority; for ourselves, our families and our colleagues. And if you’re a leader in the media and advertising industry, this is especially important given research shows more than half of the members of our industry suffer from anxiety or depression at a scale that is unhealthy.

But just as I ask myself what I could have done differently for my nephew, you’re no doubt asking what you can do to help your teams and workmates that are struggling with mental health challenges. What can and can’t you say? When are you caring and when are you overstepping?

There are a number of ways to arm yourself to better assist with mental health in the workplace.

If you’re looking for guidance and resources, the Mentally Healthy Change Group website is a great place to start. If you want to take it a step further, many businesses have taken part in Mental Health First Aid training.

Personally, I believe everyone in the workplace should be trained in mental health. It’s about having the confidence to not have the answers but having enough knowledge to recognise changes in behaviour, communicate that you care and then meet the person where they are at.

Heart On My Sleeve conducts a number of programs including Real Conversations training which arms people with the tools they need to have serious discussions about mental health and recognise the signs of stress and distress. The course provides many tips for looking out for others. Listening is key. As is giving people the support and space they need to manage their own mental health.

While leaders play a vital role in looking after their teams, the onus is also on employees to understand what they need and to communicate this. Without that awareness, the business is flying blind. But to get to that point, our humans need to feel safe in sharing their concerns and needs, without any stigma. And it’s up to us to provide that psychological safety.

Psychological safety is a term that describes how safe it is to be vulnerable with the people you work with. It’s a powerful and useful way to describe the emotional climate and behaviour of a team and it goes beyond any mental health program you implement. After all, you can’t say you’re investing in mental health if the workplace allows harmful behaviours such as bullying or harassment to continue in the background.

The goal is to be mentally healthy, so set wellness goals. Share these with your teams and managers so they are supported in achieving them. They are then rewarded in the same way as they are for other performance goals. To help them get there, perhaps offer five extra annual leave “wellness” days?

We have to provide safe workplaces and encourage open dialogue if not for ourselves but for people like my nephew who, with more help from resources like these, might still be here today.

Virginia Scully

Virginia Scully is the people and culture director at Hatched Media. She is an accredited extended disc practitioner who has also completed Unconscious Bias training, and Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead leadership training.

This piece is in memory of our beloved GedHed.


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