New Mental Health Report highlights the need for systematic change within the creative industry

Screen Shot 2018-10-11 at 12.10.10 pm.jpgDeeply affected by many stories of creatives compromising their own mental health due to a stressful working environments, Melbourne-based strategic design consultancy Tank saw a need for individuals to be given the opportunity to voice their concerns.

With over 20 years experience in the creative industry, Tank felt it necessary to open up mental health conversations in order to provoke an industry to listen and respond.

The results of the survey were confronting and highlighted an urgent need for the creative industry to change for the better.

Tank's general manager, Karina Dea explains why Tank was driven to create the survey. Says Dea: "We decided to use our position in this industry, to provide a platform for those voices to be heard and hopefully affect positive change.
"Surveying over 350 people around the world, and with over 500 downloads in just three days of its release, it is clear that the report has struck a chord.

"The word 'fear' appeared in responses repeatedly, there is a lot of fear in our industry, fear of failure, fear of abuse from senior staff, fear of redundancy and more. Other themes that came through strongly were perfectionism, impact of mental health on relationships, bullying and discrimination.

"We were staggered to read responses about shouting and threats in the workplace."

In addition to giving voice to employees legitimate concerns, the survey also tried to gain another perspective from the working environment, asking business owners about their own pressures.

Respondents also had the opportunity to describe their ideal workplace which included natural light, quiet spaces and supportive policies; open plan workplaces and working long hours received a great deal of criticism.

Overwhelmed by the response and also deep concern for the industry as a whole, Tank's first step was to create the 2018 Mental Health & Creativity Report and release it publicly. Tank then aims to monitor the industry's progress by running the survey annually.

Jim Antonopoulos, Tank's managing director, is clear in what he hopes the 2018 Mental Health & Creativity Report can achieve. Says Antonopoulos: "We believe in creative leadership and have dedicated a key part of our business in helping creative people do just that -- lead.

"I hope this document empowers people to have an open conversation about the issues which contribute to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues in their workplace.

"We hope it forces positive change in work/life balance and moves businesses to improve outdated, unethical and unhealthy practices."

Being widely shared nationally and internationally, the 2018 Mental Health & Creativity Report is a first, but important step in an entire industry moving towards improving the health of everyone who works within it.

The 2018 Mental Health & Creativity Report can be downloaded here.


Ad guy said:

So glad this is being addressed.

The intense hours and pressure has turned me into an anxious wreck, who is completely burned out and can hardly do my job any more.

Many I know feel the same. Many have have to quit. And I think I have to do the same, even if it's just to stack shelves at Woolworths so I don't go completely insane.

I've also had to result to ringing LifeLine many nights these days.

Work shouldn't be so full of fear. But for some reason advertising has this harsh culture that inspires huge hours and giving up your life for "the cause".

Which if you take away all the bullshit, is to simply make the few people in charge a lot of money.

Please send help!

Mindful said:

You never know what someone is going through.

Former Ad guy said:

After 25 years in advertising - the last 2 of it coming to a mental health crescendo which culminated in a massive breakdown and 14 weeks in hospital - I have since left the business and started to do my own thing in running my own.

It is still connected with advertising, but the difference is I now set the agenda, not The Man. My levels of stress now come from me setting standards of delivering quality of work to my clients on deadline.

This experience has totally rewired my mental pathways and made me think and approach my life differently. And anyone who has gone through a mental breakdown will understand what I'm saying.

I have seen - and still see - good people suffering from fear, the big "what-ifs" if they decide to get out. It's a fear that cripples us from making the jump to change.

It stiffles our clarity and reason, and this delibitating fear feeds us lies that we will not be able to survive without the "security" of a corporate monthly salary.

Since that day I have not met ONE ex ad person who has not landed on his/her feet after leaving their job for whatever reason - and more than that, prospered in better pastures. But I know it's hard to see that when you're surrounded by a viscous grey fog.

I'm not suggesting that this is always the case, but thank God the subject of mental illness and anxiety in the workplace is now entering the social conversation. There is still a long way to go, but at least people are now talking about it. And from talking comes understanding, and from understanding, hopefully comes change.

Agency Employee said:

Isn't it ironic that some at the top get to drive people half crazy and borderline suicidal, but cover up the awful culture they promote with their own "cause"

Are you Ok?

No I'm not fucking ok and it's because of you!!!

Sydney ad guy said:

I’m definitely not okay. So thanks for the article. Advertising is just a business, yet us employees are forced to believe we are doing something so important that it requires late nights, weekends and to sacrifice a social life in the search for some worthless bit of gold. The fun left a long time ago. Now we just wreck our brains over coming up with ideas that very rarely ever get made. It’s a depressing sweat-shop industry.

However, those in charge must be absolutely cheering. They get to hire half the teams they need to get the work done. Which equals $$$. Which we seem to all forget that this is what it’s all about. We are not making art. And nobody but us care about what we do.

We are all being fooled, but I don’t see the game changing.

Suffering creative said:

Can someone please send this to a certain ECD bully who works in an agency located in Sydney?

i think said:

This is clearly a much needed discussion.

Ad Woman said:

I used to joke about fear being a motivator, now it's a reality. The idea of your creative identity being caught up in an industry that maligns women, especially creative women, is hard. This industry isn't built on 'merit', it's built on a club that's hard to join and even harder to thrive in. It's toxic and forces you to care about things that were never important and about people that will walk over you to get whatever they want under the guise of 'relationships'. I guess I'm definitely not OK. Thank you for addressing something that's ubiquitous, but of course we can't really be that honest about it because our future in the industry depends on those who don't care or even give it a second thought.

Hold on a second said:

What we do for a job, compared to almost any other job, is pretty damn cool.

That is including the stress, deadlines etc - we have a pretty cool job.

The industry does not malign women. The industry does not malign anyone.

What does?

Pressure. And it starts with the client. Who is under pressure from their asshole boss. Who is under pressure from their asshole CEO. Who is under pressure from their asshole shareholders. And it goes down the line to adland.

I have had two massive breakdowns and numerous smaller ones over 25 years of working in this industry. I still work in it. Nobody knows I have had those breakdowns. One employee did know, and I was subsequently fired for ‘not coping’.

Why do I do it? I like what I do.

How do I do it? I’ve stopped giving a shit about all the bullshit that goes with what we do for a living and learned to ignore it. I don’t feel the pressure anymore. In fact I don’t even care.

If you’re struggling, get out. Go work in a cafe or Uber. Get some perspective. Soon you’ll realise if you want to make good money, you need to give something in return.

That’s all.


@Ad Woman said:

I’d love to know what this ‘club’ is.

There isn’t one. Unless you include ‘Chicks In Advertising’, ‘Business Chicks’ or any number of women’s groups that are springing up all over the place.

Can I join this club? I’m a privately schooled, white eastern suburbs guy who works his ring off but I still haven’t been given a membership. Still hasn’t been given a promotion over a more-deserving woman. Still have to make my own toast and coffee, suck it up and do the work.

What am I doing wrong?

At @Ad Woman said:

Wait, so if it’s not happening to you, then it’s not happening? You would think our industry wouldn’t be so binary about things.

We are not qualified... said:

Ad agencies have for years:

* Made staff work long hours and weekends
* Say staff who complain are 'not team players.'
* Don't allow mental health days even in this day and age
* Systematically bully people to save money on redundancy payouts
* When this fails they issue press statements like 'left by mutual agreement' and we 'wish them well.'
* Allow bitchiness and gossip at the highest level
* Allow verbal abuse on an hourly basis
* Allow sexual harassment in senior or staff considered critical to the operation
* Allow even physical abuse

The ad industry writing a campaign for mental health is like asking a rapist to write a campaign for anti violence.

Machiavelli is dead said:

When agency leadership can insist healthy paranoia is positive, it's clear they do not give a damn about anyone.

great work said:

This is so important to talk about.

And, I've never seen us all so aligned on a subject before. :-)

(And, I don't think it's the client at all; it's how our decisionmakers react to the client that dictates how the rest of agency behaves).

@ Ad Woman said:

"I'm a privately schooled Eastern Suburbs white guy... I make my own coffee and get my own toast". WOW. Here's some news for you. You ARE IN THE CLUB!! Surely your privilege is pretty obvious even to you.Do you have a job? Then you are doing better than most female creatives who rely on freelance to live. And those groups are just women sharing information...and support. So let me spell it out. The club this woman is referring to is the Boys Club. It exists. I freelance all over Sydney and I can tell you that the majority of full time creatives ARE MEN. It's a fact. So you are a privileged privately educated white man who really should STFU and keep making your own toast and getting your own coffee until of course one of your mates promotes you and you can order some one "lesser" than you to do it for you.

Sure said:

Advertising wasn't and will never be a great industry. You can pretend that by making it open to express your feelings it will make it better. It won't. It's its core value (arrogance, egomaniac, egocentric, psychopathic. There are a handful of successful people, a handful, who will have the glory, the rest will keep pushing pixels and pretend they live a great life. The reward is alcohol. Mostly. That's how you tame your staff.

As the industry plays this fluctuation, people will find jobs, will loose others and continue to be treated as a number. Because when you are not needed, you're out. And that affects you emotionally, creatively and can cause major stress.

The reality is we are humans with values, emotions and empathy can lead to a possible change in the advertising landscape. Collaboration and participation, exercising respect.

Have a great day you all. Don't stay late. Life is learnt outside. Go for a walk.

can we said:

please avoid making this a gender issue. its not. its something that happens to both me and women and we should take the focus off it by infighting

pugwash said:

Do they hand out awards for brave men making their own toast and coffee?

Where do these oppressed souls sign up?

Kimmie said:

These comments are so, so heartbreaking to read. I know we always joke that 'we're not saving lives' – so please, let's not kill ourselves in the process!

Sure, advertising is a 'cool' job, but being stuck at your desk 6 nights a week, drinking bottle after bottle of agency booze to forget that you once had a REAL LIFE is not.

Advertising naturally attracts sensitive, intelligent people who give a shit, so if your CEO, ECD or whatever doesn't seem to care about you (or your mental health), do yourself a favour and go and work with people who do! You'll be amazed at the difference a bit of work-life balance, enough rest and a little appreciation will make to your health – and your work.

@can we said:

here here!

@woman said:

You turn a thread about human well-being, support and understanding into one of divisiveness. Maybe your total lack of empathy, understanding and intelligence is what has seen your career stagnate, not your gender.

@tank said:

Well done for raising this.

Can I ask if there is some form of action or initiative planned to turn your findings into a response. I would certainly support it and it sounds like many many others would too

When did we all get so shit? said:

Anyone who got into this industry thinking it would be emotionally rewarding, flexible hours, easy work, inclusive and nurturing either has never made it past ‘junior’ level or is already well on the spectrum.

Come on people.

And the comment before about ‘the majority of freelancers are female’ - get some gender issue help. Full timers are either brilliant or work outside of work, available 24/7. And often they are both.

TIpping in on the issue said:

I'm a CD in the industry. I started out all guns blazing, I worked at Clemenger BBDO, and some of the other big agencies. I went overseas and experienced the Euro market, and worked for independents. I started in the era of the 'boys club'. Egocentric idealists that drove solid creative output. I was brought up on the culture of staying back late endlessly. I stayed back late at Proximity until 10pm most nights as an intern without getting paid a cent in the very early days. The culture is schooled into you from the start. Its only been later in my career that I've set my own terms. Its a risk. But if you don't do it, the industry takes everything from you. Your creativity, your time and your idenity. You can literally turn into that 'fuck wit' ad guy. If you think the glory of chugging booze, partying, and winning 'validation' awards, makes up for what you loose, then you are ultimately drinking the bullshit cool aid. Learn to be your own person, set your own way, and don't burn yourself into the ground for an ideology that is a bit like the religion you grew up with but never questioned. It's a means to an end, and it will end you if you don't create your own expectations.

@Tiipping in said:

Couldn’t agree more.

As someone with similar experience, I’d just add one thing to that.

Don’t be afraid to tell typical ad-rooster to go fuck themselves.

You know the one. The one who asks ‘Have you got somewhere to be?’ when you say ‘It’s 4:30pm on a Saturday and I’ve done everything you’ve asked seven times now - can I go?’

Or the one that texts / calls you at 10:30 at night on a weekday. Or 6am.

I’ve told several massive ‘industry hitters’ to insert their tiny penis into their own bottom and never had a hard time finding a new job.

The only great thing about the older CD blokes - they all knocked off at 6, and you could work until whatever time you liked, as long as they were happy at 8:30 the next day. And you didn’t have this answering emails at midnight after a few lines with the client bullshit we have now.

True story said:

So much of this pressure filters down from the insecurity of people in management. One creative manager in particular I worked for couldn't recognise a good idea, or sell one in either, and from what I understand, was very concerned about being called out as a fraud. This insecurity forced him to make a lot of poor decisions.

For example, he would use my ideas to justify his position in the network at the global creative meetings, while back on home soil, he'd justify his position locally by offering generic and contradictory feedback during every creative presentation. It was incredibly demoralising knowing that especially when I would stay back late to work, and miss out on life outside the agency walls, I would know that no matter what I presented, it wouldn't hit the mark. This is the only agency I've worked where this had happened to me.

What made the stress worse was that while this was going on, the manager would disappear to the pub with half the creative department, yet credit some of them for work they had nothing to do with, while the other half of the department actually worked to lift the creative level of the otherwise not famous agency. This helped foster a horrendously toxic workplace, where creative output came secondary, and politics was all that mattered.

Leaving a place can be scary financially if you don't have a job lined up, but after banging my head against the wall for what seemed like eternity, I made what turned out to be a brilliant decision and quit with what sanity I had left.

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