Something I often get asked is whether I think mental health is, in fact, a bigger issue in the communications industry than other professions. Sadly, and rather ironically, the answer is yes. Studies show that there is a disproportionate amount of people with symptoms of mental illness in the media, marketing and creative industries – but why is this? Shouldn’t we be better than most at promoting the issue and developing strategies to reduce it?
It’s no secret that this line of work can be extremely demanding. In fact, PR is listed as one of the most stressful professions in the world. However, those in high-stress professions like doctors, firefighters and military personnel have long had embedded and easily accessible services to support employees who are affected by mental illness and it only feels like the corporate world is just now waking up to understanding this is an essential part of employee support.
In Australia, a recent study looking at the media, marketing and creative industries revealed that over half (55 percent) had mild to severe symptoms of depression and 56 percent for anxiety. That is 20 points above the average Australian worker. Worst of all is the stigma attached to mental health. Only 29 percent of people living with a mental health condition said they would disclose it to a colleague.
This isn’t just an issue that affects work culture. It ultimately impairs the ability to effectively do our jobs and impacts our bottom lines. The World Economic Forum, ‘Future of Jobs’ report, names creativity, complex problem-solving and critical thinking as the top three job skills most in demand by 2020. If we can’t reach our full potential because our mental welfare isn’t being looked after, that’s going to be a ripple felt throughout our businesses.
Dr. David Alais, Professor of Psychology at the University of Sydney and an expert in the neuroscience of creativity, has found a strong link between creative thinking and wellbeing. He states that we each have a cognitive cycle that switches in and out of our focused conscious mind and into a divergent style where we can create and find links between disparate ideas. Since this creative network doesn't come online until we're relaxed and de-stressed, we need to work harder as an industry to create supportive environments to ensure people can thrive.
This is clearly something we can all benefit from addressing. Nearly all of us (89 percent) in the Lucky Country say that we’re happy to work alongside someone with a mental health condition, and as John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO, once said, "We must bring love out of the corporate closet." We must all practice kindness and empathy, asking our colleagues if they are ok and being ready to lean in, listen and be ready with support if they are not.
Some examples of what we’re implementing at Edelman through our ‘Livewell’ program include flexible working hours, mental health training and providing employees with our own bespoke wellness app. We are also working hard to promote a healthy work/life balance through our ‘Dusk to Dawn’ global policy, designed to curb non-urgent emails outside of work hours (8pm to 8am…or 7pm to 7am for us early risers in Australia) and encouraging at least one walking meeting a day.
It is of vital importance to create a compassionate culture where it is okay to talk openly and confidentially about mental health issues knowing that doing so will not impact your career progression and work relationships. This culture must be driven from the top and it is imperative that CEOs and leaders openly demonstrate their commitment to mentally healthy workplaces and, more importantly, role model mentally healthy practices.
Kate Ferguson is Chief Client and Operations Officer at Edelman's Australia office.