It’s Time We Overhaul the Industry’s Narrative Around Mental Illness

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This is a very difficult topic to write about, given my cultural background where “we don’t talk about these things.” However, the truth is that we must talk about these things, as they are a natural part of life and affect so many people annually. Some we know, many we don’t. Too many suffer in silence and laugh along, as we make snide remarks and offhand jokes about the mental illness conditions that often lead up to—and sometimes are direct causes of—suicide.

We talk a lot these days about work-life balance and health and wellness in business. Too often it’s just talk. Very little action is taken to assist those that need help, much of which requires preventative actions and resources that allow people to be able to afford required help.

I was shocked to recently discover that some key medical needs in this area are not covered by health insurance, as they are not deemed medical priorities/emergencies or real medical issues. Those of us who work in advertising and marketing fields find ourselves in constant pools of stress, duress and high-level pressure, the precursors to depression, mood swings, hopelessness and their unfortunate outcomes (unexpected rage, loss of productivity, absenteeism, addictive behavior, etc.).

We hold people at fault when they show signs of stress and request time off to deal with it. Societal taboos don’t allow those affected to honestly discuss their issues, so they hide, lie and suffer in silence, alone and with the high anxiety of being discovered. HR people, naturally, are not trained to deal with these issues. Hell, they are not trained in most cases to even notice the signs before things derail.

I have worked with people that were clearly dealing with challenges. Depending on their level and stature in the organization, we allowed it to fester, pretending nothing was wrong. This is especially the order of the day if the person is considered “highly creative” or “valuable to the agency-client relationship.”

Often, their internal pain and suffering were more advanced than we thought. There were virtually no treatment options for them. We employed a position of: “Keep quiet. Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” We enabled them to scream at underlings, yell at colleagues and disappear for days at a time. And we still acted like all was fine. Then, when the bomb exploded, we all acted surprised.

We need to change the narrative and the workplace dynamics around these issues. We must take a stand and significantly ramp up discussions and solutions around preventative and real-life treatment options. We must provide safe spaces for people to raise their hands and seek help. We must erase the taboos from our mindset and become true supporters of our colleagues. This should be a topic at every industry conference and convention. We must fully open our eyes. These challenges are not going away.

Let’s truly help prevent suicide and not hinder treatment by hiding behind false realities and fear.

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