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Adland’s mental health crisis worsens as calls to Nabs jump by 35%


By Ellen Ormesher, Senior Reporter

February 7, 2023 | 7 min read

The industry support network says workers are struggling financially and emotionally amid the cost of living crisis and economic uncertainty.

Mental health

Demand for services around advice, financial help and therapy referrals are all up y-o-y / Adobe Stock

The latest data from Nabs points to an industry in dire straits, with the charity revealing that demand for its services rose by 49% in 2022 as people working across media, marketing and advertising struggle to find support for their mental health and wellbeing.

What is the issue?

The welfare of adland’s workers has been in decline for a number of years. Despite a wave of pledges by industry bodies and agency bosses to improve support, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic plus the subsequent cost of living crisis and ongoing economic uncertainty has pushed employee mental health to breaking point.

How are things now?

The situation has only worsened. By April 2022, calls to the Nabs advice line were already up by 15%, but data released today reveals that by the end of last year, demand for Nabs’ suite of services was up by 49% from 2021. This increase made 2022 Nabs’ busiest year since 2018.

Calls to Nabs’ advice line have spiked by 35% year-on-year, with the two top reasons for contact being emotional support (37%) and financial support (36%).

Across the board, mental health and wellbeing have continued to plummet as two-thirds (66%) of all of the emotional support calls received by Nabs in 2022 were for support and guidance on mental health – a 31% increase year-on-year.

In some instances, workers suffering from burnout, stress and a lack of boundaries around work-life balance resorted to ‘quiet quitting’ in an attempt to claw back a sense of agency.

But the rising cost of living crisis, combined with worries about the geopolitical climate, the job market and increasing stress and conflict at work were all contributing factors towards this rise in need for advice and support around improving mental wellness, says the charity.

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As a result, Nabs’ therapy referrals rose by 32% year-on-year.

Redundancy resurged as a notable topic for Nabs service users in 2022 after a drop-off during 2021. Against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis and looming recession, the organization reported a staggering 1,432% increase in access to online redundancy guides.

What can be done?

Off the back of its findings, Nabs chair and deputy managing director of commercial at ITV Simon Daglish says the network will continue to bolster its services in response to the industry’s “various and complex challenges”.

“We’ll be more responsive than ever, offering new training targeted at middle managers, including group learning sessions designed to help teams with immediate and live issues.”

Meanwhile, Sue Todd, Nabs’ chief exec, called for organizations to prioritize staff’s wellbeing. “To thrive in these times, we need to put conversations and action about improving our collective mental wellness at the heart of what we do,” she said.

“This year, Nabs will work harder than ever with our industry to create and strengthen the relationships and tools we need to help advance the mental wellness of ourselves and our teams, and to help people and organizations join the dots between issues and best practice. Although every individual’s challenges are different, our most effective response is collective.”

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson from the Creative Communications Workers (CCW) union told The Drum that the figures aren’t surprising, “given that long-term trends in our industry such as very long hours, low entry-level pay, bullying and harassment, and failures in DEI are being exacerbated by the broader cost of living crisis and all of the other after-effects of the pandemic.”

CCW says it calls on all senior management across the industry to “make meaningful commitments to improving pay and conditions on a permanent basis“. It added: “More importantly, we call on anyone struggling to make ends meet, or laboring in toxic working environments, to join us and start talking about these issues with their colleagues so that we can work together to make our industry safer, kinder and better paid.“

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