‘How are you, really?’ Our industry’s mental health needs help
Why is it so hard for us to truthfully answer the question ‘how are you?’ Nina Nyman ponders the mental health of the media, marketing and creative industry.
This article originally appeared in The Truth Issue, our October/November 2018 print edition of Marketing magazine.
If you’ve ever met someone from Finland you’d know that we are generally pretty direct and honest. Telling the truth is one of the core values we are brought up with. I reckon it’s to do with the weather, because who has time for BS when it’s -20 Celsius and it hurts just to open your mouth?
So 20 years ago, when I first moved to the UK, it took me a while to understand that telling the truth wasn’t always acceptable. I remember new friends being shocked when they asked me how I was and I actually answered honestly, with details, about whatever it was that was keeping me up at night. I’ve since learned the art of the casual response ‘Oh I’m fine thanks, what about you?’.
We all do it, but just because something is the ‘norm’ doesn’t always make it right. We expect honesty and transparency from the brands we work for and consume, so why is telling the truth about ourselves so difficult?
It turns out that for over half of us working in the media, marketing and creative industry, the truth is uncomfortable. We recently ran ‘Mentally Healthy 2018’ – the first ever major study into the mental health of our industry, in partnership with Everymind and Never Not Creative. Of the 1800 respondents, 56% show signs of mild to severe depression and 55% show signs of mild to severe anxiety. Each is 20% more than the national average – outlined in a 2015 report released by the Australian Psychological Society.
Worryingly, nearly one in five of us show signs of severe or extremely severe depression, compared to 12% in the national average, and nearly one in four show signs of severe or extremely severe anxiety, compared to 11% national average.
What’s the cause? Stress is a key contributor, with 57% of respondents showing signs of stress and 18% showing signs of ‘severe’ or ‘extremely severe’ stress. The pressure we put on ourselves, the pressure from others and juggling multiple responsibilities are perceived to be the most stressful. We’re a hard-working bunch, with almost half of us working more than eight hours per day. One third of us work on a weekend at least once a month.
Worth considering is the impact of social media. Studies link social media use with depression and anxiety, but it’s amplified in our industry where we must stay up to speed on an ever-changing landscape. According to ThinkTV’s 2017 ‘AdNation’ study, our industry uses Instagram nearly 50% more and Twitter a third more than the average consumer. That becomes a problem when we consider what we share on social, which often only shows part of the truth – the edited highlights. Like the sweetly smiling baby who may actually have been screaming for the last three hours or the post about a big promotion that came at a cost of major sacrifices in family life.
Could the constant flow of perfectly-filtered images and posts about big achievements contribute to the pressure we put on ourselves?
On the flip side, ‘Mentally Healthy’ found that having a strong network of social connections is a key indicator of better mental health. So while social media may contribute to stress, it’s also a useful tool for connecting us with a wider community and providing another way to speak up. It’s all about balance. It’s good to see social media platforms exploring solutions to support users, such as Twitter’s Lifeline chatbot or Facebook’s AI that scans posts to detect patterns of suicidal thoughts.
One of the most encouraging findings is how literate the industry is about mental health topics and how welcoming we are in supporting those who may be struggling. Eighty-nine percent of us would happily work with someone diagnosed with depression. Sadly though, only 29% of us would tell someone at our workplace if we’d been diagnosed with depression.
We’re supportive of others, but not comfortable opening up ourselves. Why? Is it the stigma, the fear of judgement? Being seen as less productive? Or is it more practical not knowing where to go or who to talk to?
Personally, I can relate. I’ve always considered myself to be mentally healthy and it wasn’t until I started working on the study that I realised I wasn’t as well as I thought (the irony). During preparation for the project, I reviewed and completed various mental health surveys, all of which came back showing severe signs of depression and anxiety, often coupled with a message of ‘call your GP now’. Yet just like 71% of people in our study, I didn’t feel comfortable talking about this with anyone. I didn’t want to be the spoilt little girl moaning about nothing, when others deal with far more serious issues.
UnLtd works with incredible charities helping children and young people at risk. We hear daily about abuse, neglect, addiction and severe trauma. These are real issues affecting so many young Australians. So, complaining about extreme sleep deprivation (thanks to a sleep-hating child) combined with the sometimes overwhelming and paralysing stress I put on myself – and how I struggle to think a single positive thought about myself during those times – just seems unworthy in comparison to the real issues others are facing.
But big issues all start somewhere. It may be stress that you brush off as just a ‘busy time at work’, or the glass of wine each night turning into many, that before you even notice becomes a big issue. As with physical health, prevention and early intervention is the key to looking after your mental health. Being honest and opening up when things are not OK is the first step in preventing bigger future issues. And the more people in our industry we hear telling the truth, the more we all feel encouraged and empowered to speak up when the time comes.
At UnLtd, a key focus for 2019 is to take the findings from the study and start building solutions to make our industry more mentally healthy. We will bring the industry bodies together to begin forming structural, practical and behavioural solutions. Together with our mental health charity partners we will run educational sessions and practical workshops for our industry.
Changing the stats will take time and requires all of us in the industry to challenge our thinking and perceptions of what a healthy workplace looks like. In the meantime, there are two very simple things you can do to make yourself, your colleagues and your industry more mentally healthy.
- Next time you ask someone you care about how they are, really listen, without judgement and without necessarily trying to solve the problem. For tips on how to ask and what to do when someone isn’t OK, check out R U OK »
- When someone you trust asks how you are, tell the truth, no matter how uncomfortable.
If you or someone you care about needs support, contact Lifeline: 13 11 14
Nina Nyman is CMO at UnLtd.
This week, UnLtd ran its Big Chats: Mentally Healthy Work breakfast series events in Sydney and Melbourne. The sessions included presentations from Heart On My Sleeve, Relationships Australia NSW and Victoria and Batyr.
Marketing is proud to have UnLtd as a Content Partner. We urge you to visit unltd.org.au and get involved.
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Image credit:Aaron Burden