How are the creative industries facing up to stress and depression in the workforce?

Lorraine Jennings

The subject of mental illness has received many column inches of late. Much is being said about Robin Williams’ many acts of selfless kindness and compassion, with those he helped along the way expressing their regret at not realising the extent of his own challenges such was the effort he placed on keeping his inner demons hidden from the public eye.

In our own industry, mental health problems remain a massive and largely unspoken issue. Specifically, government data shows that stress-related illnesses including depression cost the UK at least £6.5bn a year, and as Helen Forbes pointed out in her article last week, it’s something that affects the creative industries far more than others.

Stress and pressure in our industry, many will say, are par for the course. And to an extent the advertising and media industry will always be known as a fast-paced, exciting but demanding profession. But there’s a fine line between good pressure and the bad pressure that makes the shift from busy but enjoyable to overworked and stressed.

84 per cent of industry workers we surveyed last year when we launched our Resilience Programme claimed that demands on them had risen in the past year, and calls to our advice line show that demands they face from clients, colleagues and lives outside of work haven’t lessened in 2014 either. Nor do the calls exclusively relate to stress and depression; there is a whole range of mental health problems which persist in our industry, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder, to name a few.

It’s why we are continuing our Resilience Programme from mid-September, due to the ongoing demand for everything from workshops on wellbeing and mindfulness to longer-term, educative and preventative support such as confidential, one-to-one, specialised coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy provided by experts in their field.

We all know that people perform better when they are content and happy at work. But it’s getting people to feel comfortable enough to make that first step towards admitting that they are suffering from stress – or in Helen’s case, depression – that can be the most difficult.

Attitudes in our industry remain complex. Just over half of those who responded to our survey last year told us that they would worry about owning up to feeling stressed to senior staff in case they were viewed as weak. Yet 77 per cent would not label a colleague who admitted to stress as weak. And despite many organisations providing workplace initiatives, our industry appears to be particularly stoical, with over 70 per cent of respondents believing they are responsible for dealing with their own stress themselves.

Failing to identify when we’re struggling with pressure often means that we can reach breaking point, a time when the symptoms of stress, and as a result depression or other stress-related illnesses, can kick in. It happens to the best of us, but if we can equip ourselves from the outset, whether it be with resilience techniques or even a strong support network through HR or management teams, then we can turn that stressed industry statistic on its head.

At the heart of this are the leaders and managers that create a culture and environment that embraces positive and constructive feedback, as well as a vision and sense of purpose for why people are doing what they are doing and the expected outcome. It’s also about educating colleagues and management about stress, depression and other mental health problems – to break the taboo in the workplace and make our industry more open, and able to talk about these difficult issues.

Happiness is key in any business and it needs to be a key focus for any organisation. By fostering a happy culture based on increasing the wellbeing of our workforce, we can encourage better productivity with a workforce happy and able to cope with the demands of our industry.

It’s something the businesses we come into contact with are placing higher up on their agenda too. HR departments have for a long time, especially in the big group agencies, run Employee Assistance Programmes. We’ve heard of companies raising awareness internally by running a resilience and positive psychology course for the whole agency, whilst more and more are taking up mindfulness as a way to help the workforce build resilience to daily work pressure. Many companies are also referring their employees to Nabs for additional support and equally we are finding people proactively self-selecting, not necessarily at crisis point, but eager to learn new ways of caring for themselves and those around them.

Better wellbeing and happiness among staff means better performance, enhanced staff retention and less absenteeism. And for this industry, it means better ideas, more fun and greater achievements – a win/win situation for all.

Lorraine Jennings is head of support at Nabs, the National Advertising Benevolent Society

Nabs will be hosting a series of workshops and events as part of its Resilience Programme, aimed at helping industry workers build resilience to pressure. These will run between September 16 – 30. For more information visit the Nabs website.

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