Early Thoughts On Designing Our Mental Health

Photo by  Victoria Heath  on  Unsplash

If you haven’t heard something about the topic of mental health recently – where have you been?! It seems to be the next big thing in workplaces, news and social media. Maybe not as big as augmented reality Pokemon, but it’ll probably stick around longer.

The stats are plentiful. 1 in 5 of us will have experienced symptoms in the last 12 months and 1 in 2 of us will have experienced it in our life-times. Yet, it seems like it’s much easier to ignore it and hope it goes away, than to start tackling it head on. 

We don’t have an awareness issue with anxiety, depression or stress. RUOK? Day, Movember and some high profile ambassadors have helped make sure of that. We have a “can we be grown ups and talk about it” and “start doing something about it” issue. If you still don’t believe me, just hang out till next month and I’ll have some real evidence (derived from our Mentally Healthy 2018 survey) analysed and concluded by people, much, much smarter than me. 

There’s no silver bullet for this problem either. My own research and experience with mental health has arrived at the conclusion that it’s an almost inevitably impossible plate spinning act that looks and feels great when everything’s 100%. Unsurprisingly, for many of us that’s never anywhere near 100% of the time. 

So what? We all have ups and downs, right? Having a bad day doesn’t make you special. But, what if the reasons for that bad day are beyond your control? If the response to having a bad day is that you should have gotten more sleep, eaten better, taken time off – why didn’t you? While work isn’t the only contributor, when you spend more than half of your non-sleeping day doing it, I think it’s safe to say it’s part of the problem. And I can tell you now, it is.

From the pressure you put on yourself to be better, to achieve, to get ahead, to the pressure that others put on you to get things done, make things better, and supply them yesterday – it all takes its toll. Where does this pressure come from? Why does it make us do crazy things like come to work when we’re sick, or feel guilty about being the first to pack up and leave for the day? 

Then we have the stressors of responsibility and financial necessity. Providing for others, and sometimes struggling to do so because a project didn’t come off, or a client decided that putting bread on your table wasn’t as important as keeping the money in their bank for a few (or let’s face it, many more) days longer to make it easier to line their shareholders pockets or hit a number on a spreadsheet. 

To be honest, this is literally just scratching the surface. As we delve through the data of the Mentally Healthy 2018 survey it’s fired some early thoughts on structuring a solution. Could we tackle this problem in 3 parts?

  1. Systemic change.
    The standards we need to establish to help remove some of the financial stressors that lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

  2. Organisational change.
    The practices that we can introduce to our industry and businesses to promote healthy discussion and recognition of mental health. How do we reward getting your work done and leaving on time, vs frown when someone walks out leaving everyone else working at 5.30?

  3. Behavioural change.
    Can we help those already living with the symptoms of depression and anxiety? What can we do to help them open up? How do we react if we ask them if they’re ok and they say no?! What happens when we become accidental counsellors? How do we get into the habit of taking our own advice – I’m definitely talking to me on this one!

That’s it from me (Andy). As you can see, I’ve been giving this a bit of thought, but I can’t wait to hear yours. It’s a big part of the reason that I started Never Not Creative. So that we could start discussing and actioning the solutions to the challenges we face in our industry. We’re bloody good at solving our client’s problems. Now let’s have a crack at fixing ours.

PS This article was originally written as prep for the “Designing Your Mental Health” event in Melbourne on 26th November 2018.

ArticleAndy WrightComment