Last month we had Depression Awareness Week, a week that couldn't be more relevant to the Advertising and Creative Industries.
At the same time McDonalds had to apologise for an ad that appeared in Boston’s mass transit system showing a woman with her head in her hand and a headline that reads "You’re not alone"; the answer to her sadness was apparently a Big Mac.
It’s odd that anyone who works in advertising would produce an ad that could be accused of trivialising depression; research shows that our industry among other high stress industries such as Law over-indexes in terms of the number of people who do or have suffered from depression.
Ignoring the issue
The thing is, depression is one of those illnesses that gets hidden, swept under the carpet, and discussed behind closed doors or, more often, not at all.
Here at Rufus, we’ve recently started working with Depression Alliance. New business wins are always great, but this came with an unexpected bonus: it started us talking about depression.
Depression affects so many people that it is sometimes referred to as ‘the common cold of the mind’. In fact, Depression Alliance estimates that 1 in 5 people in the UK suffer from depression.
Whilst it can be attributed to life events or health conditions, but often appears for no discernible reason. Although many of the factors that cause depression are outside of our control, one major cause can be controlled: stress.
The advertising industry is a veritable melting pot of stress causing factors: tight deadlines, rapidly changing requirements, and long and unpredictable working hours. What’s more we’re in a highly competitive industry: fighting to win and retain business against other agencies, and struggling for recognition and promotion within our own agencies.
Focus on survival disrupts creativity
The debilitating effects of clinical depression aside, stress reduces concentration and creativity. Our fight/flight systems activate and force our bodies to focus on survival. If we’re focussed on surviving, we’re not focussed on delivering great ideas.
Therein lies the crux of why depression is so important to the advertising industry. We are an ideas business. If our employees aren’t at the optimum state for creating and delivering great ideas, then our agencies aren’t as good as they could be.
So what should we do? We can’t remove some of the systematic stress that comes with the job, but we do need to develop better ways to deal with it. We need to develop positive PR policies and stress management training so that our employees are as well-equipped as they can be. And we need to start talking about depression before people become ill, so that we can support them sooner rather than later.
Time to start talking
By facing up to depression we’ll reduce burnout, save recruitment and sick leave costs, and create environments for great ideas to thrive. This is an opportunity to go beyond preventing illness, committing to helping our employees be as good as they can be. If we want to be successful agencies, it’s high time we all started talking about this.
Depression Alliance has always supported individuals, and are now working to help industries better support their employees. They run training for HR departments, and are partnering with industry bodies to create bespoke online support for employees. Thanks to support from The Insurance Charities, Rufus Leonard is currently working with Depression Alliance to create the platform for that support - ‘Friends in Need’. The site will launch in November.
Nicola Carter, senior planner, Rufus Leonard