We can all help to change the conversation around mental health

On 3 February this year, Campaign published an article that I had originally written as a blog for colleagues at Channel 4 to let them know that I have depression.

My intention was two-fold. First, to help myself by ending years of hiding it, which had taken their toll on me, personally and professionally. Second, to try to help colleagues in our industry who experience mental health challenges by normalising the conversation.

The reception I got was overwhelmingly positive, and yet I am left with a profound sense that the creative industry is lagging behind when it comes to mental health. We can all play a part in changing that.

When I reposted the Campaign article on social media I received hundreds of likes, shares and messages. Many of the latter were deeply personal, including several from well-recognised names within our industry talking about their own mental health challenges, which are not in the public domain.

I certainly struck a chord with my hypotheses that “the weight of expectation… to be the creative, idea generators in the room, brilliant communicators at work, and the life and soul of the party” makes it particularly difficult to be open about depression or anxiety in the creative, media and marketing world.

The All In research, conducted by ISBA, the AA, the IPA and Kantar, revealed that 12% of people in our industry declared they had mental health concerns, that’s about one in eight.

Nationally, according to a recent YouGov survey, that figure is closer to one in four, double the amount disclosed in All In. Even more concerning, for 18- to 24-year-olds, typically those we are bringing into our industry, that number is one in two.

Either working in advertising is the panacea for your mental health, or more likely many of us don’t feel able to answer honestly. Unfortunately, those who contacted me often expressed that they didn’t feel able share what they were going through in the workplace. I know that’s the case because I was one. Something has to be done.

Stand up and be counted when it comes to talking about mental health

This Mental Health Awareness Week, I’m calling upon all leaders in our sector to stand up and be counted.

Lead by example by making conversations about mental well-being the norm.

Ask questions around well-being and mental health in your staff surveys, and work to create an environment where staff feel safe sharing that data.

Act on the insights this provides to improve support for staff and show you are listening to their concerns.

Introduce policies and support for employees that help them to feel enabled, not judged.

Implement the All In action plan in your organisation. At Channel 4 we really benefitted from the All In data, helping us to identify areas to improve, and providing benchmarks and advice from others.

Hold listening sessions with staff to hear their stories and experiences.

Train mental health first-aiders across your business and consider setting up mental health employee resource groups.

Above all, educate yourselves on how to be more supportive.

Does any of that sound unachievable? I don’t believe so.

Ask people how they are and listen to them

The most common question I have been asked is how to support someone with mental health concerns. The same YouGov survey found that 63% of us know someone personally in that situation; most of us would like to help our loved ones, but 39% of us do not feel well equipped to do so.

Thankfully, there’s a clear first step: ask how they are and listen to them. Studies have shown that talking and being listened to can help. Moreover, you do not have to be an expert or give advice, you simply need to care and listen.

After listening, you might choose to guide your friend, colleague or loved one to seek expert advice. You could propose that they see their GP, or use online NHS resources, or find out more from Mind or The Samaritans. They could contact the advertising and media industry support organisation, NABS, who provide advice on wellbeing including mental health to anyone who needs it. These organisations also provide advice on supporting others, as does Movember.

To end on a positive note, one of my closest friends, whom I have known for 30 years, told me they had been feeling low for some time, and my article had prompted them to seek support. A week later they had already started on that journey. I was partly ashamed that I’d never known, and partly delighted that I’d prompted someone to seek help.

If only everyone reading this could change one other life for the better, we’d soon be in a much better place.

Zaid Al-Qassab is chief marketing officer and inclusion and diversity director at Channel 4.

This is the second article about mental health that he has written in order to try to help others in our industry and has been published to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. His first article on 3 February coincided with Time To Talk Day which is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.


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