Work hard but be nice to each other

Over recent years, three of my friends have died. All men. All art directors. All young. Two of them fathers. All, in different ways, died as a result of mental ill health.

These are people I’ve worked with. Laughed with. Got pissed with. Shared the highs and lows of agency life. Now there’s a huge hole where each was.

Another thing they have in common is that they left behind shattered family, friends and ex-colleagues wondering why. Asking what we might have done differently. Whether we could have changed the outcome. Our conclusion was no. By the time we realised the gravity of the situation, it was too late. There was no pulling out of the downward spiral. Perhaps it’s just what we said to make ourselves feel better.

Either way, I do believe what we need is earlier intervention. We need people – men and women – to feel like they can talk about their problems, before they get too serious. To spot the warning signs for themselves and ask for help.

Mental ill health is a shameful scourge on our society. How can we live with the fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 40? Why are we not more angry about this?

It’s also a huge issue in the advertising industry. In recent surveys, up to 59% of respondents say they’ve suffered from depression, stress or anxiety.

Agencies can be brutal environments. Long hours, aggressive targets, competitive culture. How much talent do we lose each year because people can’t cope with the pressure? Don’t want to feel tired all the time? Or simply want a better balance of work and home life?

Our greatest assets are our people. We must look after them. This is not just a matter of doing the right thing, it’s a business issue.

What can we do? We could start by being a bit nicer to each other. Asking a colleague how they’re doing, or if they want to talk. Opening up about how we’re feeling, so others feel encouraged to do the same. We must create a culture where it’s OK to discuss our mental health.

A friend told me about the dread he felt approaching his creative director about his mental health problems. He had no idea what the response would be. The CD in question was really lovely about it and gave him time off work. We need that kind of story to be the norm. It won’t solve everything, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.