I was out for dinner with a group of friends recently and (as is the case with groups of friends) I found myself sitting next to someone particularly interesting.
She ran a small psychology practice in Auckland, New Zealand and would be moving to work in the USA in the new year. Fairly new to the field, she quickly told me that her main clientele were creative professionals.
She then asked me what I do for a living and the conversation ran like a three hour self-analysis and counselling session. She told me of the high rate of mental illness in creative industries and I validated her stories with my own experiences throughout my career. We spoke of contributing factors and the spiral that so many people find themselves in as they navigate their own career.
Truth be told, I think about mental health all the time.
I’ve experienced my own share of issues personally as a father, a partner and a professional. I'm sure we all have had our share of experience with anxiety, stress and depression. In my management and executive roles I’ve also seen first-hand the damaging effects stressful working conditions can have on people.
We sometimes take for granted the enormity of the impact stress can have when we talk of the peculiarities of our industry across social media. Late nights. Unrealistic deadlines. The pressure to perform and the rest. We click, reply and move on.
We sometimes roll our eyes at the fact that ‘they’ have to put in yet another late night, or that stress is simply an industry norm. Something we have to live with - “after all it’s simply the nature of things.”
It must be, “with all those tight deadlines and such” our university lecturers drummed it into us.
We passively discuss these issues in private and our industry panels and events focus on the outcomes that are brought on by the heavy price so many of us pay. We also actively accept these conditions and sadly, we even celebrate the norms which largely contribute to mental health issues across our industry.
I’ve seen young professionals fill themselves with the expectation to be ‘good’, paralysed by fear, falling into tears at the simplest of tasks.
Answering a phone.
Writing an email.
Taking a brief.
“Tell me, how would you define ‘good’?”
I’ve met professionals who mistakenly wear late nights as a badge of honour. Paying their dues. And sadly, I’ve seen the conditions that contribute most to mental health issues across our industry with far too much regularity leading to depression, anxiety, alcoholism and more.
I hear of industry leaders who have crumbled under the heavy weight of anxiety.
These conditions can change if we highlight them and talk about them openly, not as norms but as guilty of contributing to mental health issues across the industry at large.
Stressful, deadline driven environments and an inability to manage workload and conditions to reduce stress and anxiety.
Long-serving employees completely uncertain where the business is going, what they need to do and what the next step is in their own growth.
No line towards the horizon, no mentorship and no one to learn from.
An isolated environment and a growing sense of feeling isolatedas an individual unable to seek help or learning.
The weight of unrealistic expectations and demands that set up an inability to show weakness or failure.
A culture that perpetuates a myth that self identity is fused with work; a place where people can’t function outside of the eco-system that work creates - defined by role and title.
Abusive, dominating, sexist and racist behaviour that exists just beneath the surface. Sometimes with a smile.
And more I’m sure.
I don’t have the answer here for you today. I wish I did.
All I know is that work isn’t everything and we can’t let it impact our health and our lives in such negative ways. Yes, work can be personal and can be very much fulfilling from within — a life long passion yes, but we have to be conscious of its impact on our mental health just as much.
The consequences are serious.
- Stay connected with people — get out there and mix it up.
- Create a safe space and time, and ask someone you work with how they are — shut up and listen.
- Be aware when expectations from work are ruining your life.
- Self care is non negotiable — do something that pushes you in a positive way. Put yourself first.
- Find something else that creates positive meaning in your life.
- Ask for help. Crisis text line (USA), Lifeline (Aus), Centro de Valorização da Vida (Brazil), Youthspace (Can), Shanghai Mental Health Centre (China), Cyprus Samaritans (Cyp), Plavi Telefon(Croatia), Fil santé jeunes (Fran), Telefonseelsorge (Ger), Livslinien(Den), Teléfono de la Esperanza (Spain)