“The state of mental health in our industry is quite appalling”

In Part I of my Streamtime blog – game changing project management software – you heard from its Managing Director, Andy Wright about how giving free time to clients is not only hurting you, but also the creative sector as a whole. Which brings me on nicely to the subject of Part II: mental health in the creative, media and marketing industry – a subject that’s close to my heart. As you’ll hear, Andy is a trailblazer in tackling this very current and weighty issue. Listen up, this may help change your mindset….

When talking to Andy recently, I was hooked by what he was saying from the get-go, thanks to his no-nonsense and refreshing opinions that break away from the norm. Having worked both agency and client-side he’s been around the block over the years. This broad perspective has made him realise that our mutual industry is a mentally unhealthy one. He goes as far as to say:

Mental health is still taboo

“The mental health of the creative industry is a big challenge; that definitely gets me out of bed in the morning. You have a brain – you manage your mental health. You have a body – you manage your physical health, like it’s all exactly the same. But there’s this sort of slight taboo nature, because people can’t quite see it. You might come across as moody or snappy or in some cases lazy. And it’s not laziness or people with bad intentions. People are probably struggling with something deeper and inside.”

I couldn’t agree more. I first launched my own business ten years ago. But it wasn’t the success I’d hoped it would be for a variety of reasons. Another blog alert! I always tried to remember how many times Richard Branson – and other successful entrepreneurs – had to fail before creating their blockbuster businesses. Cue Chapter, of course. But failing fast all those years ago hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was overwhelming – I felt like I’d let my family and friends down, even people I didn’t know.

Depression and anxiety is widespread in the creative industry survey reveals

Bringing it back to the creative industry as a whole and a survey Andy and his colleagues created has unearthed that we are well above the national average. 20% of us show severe symptoms of depression, and 24% severe symptoms of anxiety. Alarming! But fuelled with these kinds of stats, Andy decided to take action and formed the Mentally Healthy Change Group that’s become part of his wider Never Not Creative movement, that’s tackling sector challenges head on.

Industry leaders, CEO’s & creative directors working to create minimum standards

“I’m not an expert in most of this stuff, but sometimes people just need someone to talk to,” he tells me, honestly. After the study, we had a whole bunch of people who actually contacted us saying they wanted to help and they’re glad that someone’s now quantified the problem and it’s being taken seriously. We then had industry leaders, CEOs and creative directors that got in touch and said they wanted to help. We’ve done a whole heap of stuff since; one of the big things was create minimum standards for our industry around what your people are entitled to at work, making sure that there is no discrimination against people with mental health challenges.”

Asking for a friend’ a place without mental health stigma

Fuelled by the resonance of his actions, Andy is soon launching ‘Asking for a friend’ – involving creative leaders and psychologists. Its aim is to create a safe, anonymous, virtual space in which people can seek mental health help and support without any stigma attached to it. At this point, I ask why companies have not been more forthcoming themselves with these kinds of services.

Create a place that’s mentally safe for your team

“It all becomes about the work, rather than about the people doing the work,” he comments. If you were to break your leg, you’d cut someone a bit of slack walking around the office or say, hey, don’t worry, we’ll have that meeting and come to you. All this kind of stuff! But break your head, those things don’t seem to exist. A lot of it is around adjustments, adapting and making sure that you’re creating a place that’s mentally safe for your team. I’ve seen people given time off which is, you know, great, because they need it. But then they come back into exactly the same situation. Really, it’s just papering over the cracks. “

Forget papering the cracks. Andy and his cohorts are like metaphorical cement that’s fixing those cracks, in the hope that they never appear again. Ever the entrepreneur, his mind is always onto the next venture. He tells me he has wondered how to use a smartwatch to alert you when your heart rate is up so you can ascertain who or what situation is causing that spike – to learn more about your mental health triggers.

I, for one, can’t wait to hear what’s next. Until then, I leave you with some final words of wisdom from Andy, that resonated with me, and are worth some pondering: “A lot of your mental health is actually trying to do the stuff that’s best for you, and not the stuff that you think other people think is the best for you.”

If you haven’t yet read about Andy Wright’s thoughts on why we should never give away free time to clients – and many other poignant themes – why not dive in.

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