Ending the Stigma: Mental Health Shouldn’t Be Taboo at Work
Mental illness isn’t something we talk about often in the workplace. It’s also something that you might overlook, until it touches someone you know — possibly even you.
No one is immune to experiencing anxiety, depression or any of the other narratives we hear about mental health. In fact, half of all mental illness begins by age 14, and yet most cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Fortunately, there is growing recognition of the importance of building mental resilience to deal with the world we live in today — including our work environment.
My persistent effort to raise mental health awareness comes from losing my dad to suicide almost five years ago. My mom, brother and I had no idea anything was wrong. He hid everything away from us and didn’t want to seek help due to the stigma attached to having a mental illness. We had so many questions, many of which we will never get the answer to. But the one thing we could infer from the note he left us was that his work environment was a large contributor to the self-deprecating thoughts that led him to take his own life.
My dad was my world growing up. I always looked up to him for the way he fiercely loved me and my family. He was a financial consultant, and I admired his work ethic. He traveled every week Sunday evening through Friday evening, yet somehow, he never missed any sporting events, music recitals or anything that was important to my brother and me.
To us, my dad seemed perfect. However, behind those bright blue eyes of his, he was fighting an internal battle that I was never even cognizant of. He never gave himself credit where it was due, he didn’t take many vacation days when I was growing up and he let others’ opinions rule his perception of himself.
What happened to my dad is, unfortunately, becoming more common among professionals due to a lack of work-life balance. Thankfully, more companies are putting processes in place to prevent this from getting worse. These days, many companies offer more paid time off, flexible hours and a variety of other incentives to boost morale.
Agencies are infamous for offering those types of incentives.
Working at an agency can be pretty amazing. Our industry has a reputation for working hard and playing hard too. We’re known for gracious PTO policies and for thinking outside the cubicle — it’s not uncommon to visit an agency and see a ping-pong table or beer on tap.
And yet, turnover rates for agencies average in at about 30 percent, which is second only to the tourism industry. Why does an industry that’s known for being fun-loving and forward-thinking have so many dissatisfied employees?
Probably because as great as agency life can be, it can be extremely mentally challenging at the same time. I’ve read countless articles about how company culture affects someone’s decision to leave an organization. In my opinion, I found the standout factors to be the lack of work-life balance, feeling overworked and undervalued, and rude behavior (and its adverse effects on productivity).
So, I get it. I get the turnover rates.
But after working at an agency for the past year, I have learned that a large portion of your mental well-being really does hinge on your perspective. I believe if you keep these three things below in mind, you’ll see things in a new light.
1. Remember That You Can’t Control Your Client’s Opinions
No matter how awesome your campaign or website build is, the cold, hard truth is: the client might not like it.
No matter how many late hours you worked or how right you are in your own eyes, you could be wrong in the client’s eyes. No matter how awesome your ads are performing, the client may still want more. No matter what the situation, you can then feel defeated.
But the client’s opinions should not define you.
If you do your best, most honest hard work, that’s all you can do. Do the work first for yourself, and not them. Situations won’t always go your way, and you won’t always win — but that doesn’t mean you aren’t good at your job. There are some things you just can’t control.
2. Remind Yourself That You Are a Unicorn
Clients have in-house marketing teams. Still, they hire agencies. It’s not that a client can’t do a task that an agency can — it’s that the client recognizes they have a need that isn’t being filled internally. They then come to us, the experts.
Except we often don’t feel like experts. With new technology always coming out, it’s a continual race to master the next big thing. Sometimes it feels like we don’t know anything.
But anyone who works at an agency for a considerable length of time becomes an expert in what they do. You work your ass off . . . but then you forget to give yourself credit.
We all need to find something that boosts our self-esteem at work. For myself, I have a self-esteem booster I always turn to when I’m feeling down. Every time I get a compliment, I screenshot it and put it in a file. Then when I feel inadequate, I can see all the times I was anything but inadequate.
Whatever it is, find your thing and redefine your definition of you. If you tell yourself, “I’m stupid” or “I’m not good enough,” then you’ll believe it — that becomes your internal programming. Switch the narrative and tell yourself positive things, which then carry on more positively throughout your day.
3. Actually Enjoy Your Benefits
Marketing and advertising are challenging industries. That’s why agencies tend to offer so many benefits to employees — to outweigh the tough with the fun. And I don’t just mean healthcare or 401(k)s. I mean the fringe benefits for which our field is notorious.
It’s commonplace these days for agencies to offer unlimited paid time off. At Nebo, we have office dogs, Beer Fridays where we celebrate our hard work and the occasional donut-eating contest. Some agencies even have ball pits and lofts shaped like bird nests.
We are given so much in hopes that it will increase morale and improve overall wellness; nonetheless, many agencies still experience high turnover rates because the employees aren’t happy.
“Happiness depends on ourselves,” said Aristotle. He was convinced that to be genuinely happy in life, it requires a broad range of conditions and finding the mean between two excesses. In the agency world, that means finding the balance between working hard and playing hard.
The ironic thing about unlimited PTO is that studies prove people don’t use it. When given the opportunity to take unlimited vacation time, employees generally won’t take more time off than usual. And if you don't stop to actually enjoy the little things, you won't fully appreciate the benefits.
As for the office dogs? A recent Nationwide study found that 89 percent of employees in a pet-friendly workplace feel that their company supports their mental well-being. Conversely, only 59 percent of those who work in a non-pet friendly workplace share that sentiment.
The wide range of activities, insane amount of drinks and snacks, unlimited PTO and so much more are meant to balance out the more demanding aspects of your job.
The sooner you realize that these are indeed benefits, the more grateful you will be that you work at a company that does care about your happiness.
Ask for Help
If you ever need to take a mental health day and stay home from work or leave early due to something that happened during the day, I promise you won’t be judged. In fact, in 2017 a woman named Madalyn Parker took the day off for reasons regarding her mental health. When she tweeted the CEO’s amazing response to her email, it went viral. He replied, “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Remember, do not fear the stigma of judgement when seeking help.
Organizations such as the World Health Organization, Mental Health America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and many more provide amazing resources to help cope with mental illness. No matter how great these resources might be, you might still want or need to speak to a therapist.
Finding a good therapist is tough, and finding one that is affordable in your healthcare network AND available on your schedule can be even harder. This is where online and mobile therapy organizations such as Talkspace and BetterHelp come in. These both provide private, instant access to thousands of therapists, and they’re actually affordable.
If you need immediate help, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
My Final Plea
If you or anyone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, know you are loved and you are strong. No one should suffer alone. Depression is real. A lot of people continue to suffer in silence. End the silence to end the stigma.