It's a strange feeling, standing up in front of the whole company and telling them that you suffer from anxiety and depression and that only a couple of years before you'd been having suicidal thoughts.
It was in 2018 that I decided to open up to my colleagues about my life-long battle with mental illness. Our industry is sadly blighted with people who are struggling to deal with the stresses and strains thrown at us every day, and I was beginning to hear about a worrying increase in the number of people I knew, even worked with, who were affected by overwhelming stress and anxiety. What's more, it seemed that they were becoming progressively isolated as they tried to deal with it on their own. With my own experience of this cruel disease, I wanted to let them and everyone else know that they are not alone and that any one of us can be affected at any time.
We are currently experiencing extremely testing times where we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of mental health issues. Fear, isolation and the uncertainty surrounding our futures is putting an unprecedented strain on our mental well-being, so never before has it been more important for us to take a moment to check in with ourselves and the people around us.
For most of my life, I have struggled. From extreme anxiety at an early age to OCD and low self-esteem to several bouts of heavy depression, I have experienced a significant number of incredibly difficult times over the years. I had become quite accustomed to therapy and numerous types of medication, but nothing could have prepared me for 2015 when my life completely imploded.
Having lost my mum in early 2014 I found myself spiralling down a long dark path into a depression that would see me lose my partner and kids, my house, my health, my money and very nearly my career by the following year.
However, I was extremely fortunate; I had a network of people that didn't give up on me. Through the support of my friends and family and a few close work colleagues, along with more medical treatment, I managed to claw myself out of the depression and get back on track. But to do that, I had to be truly honest with myself and everyone around me about what I was feeling and what I was going through. Only by opening up and talking about my mental health did I really start to recover and finally (and hopefully) overcome this horrible disease for good. That's why I decided to share my story with the agency.
Spilling my guts to everyone I worked with felt incredibly daunting but also liberating. But what was more remarkable was the reaction from those in the office who had had no idea about what I'd been through. In the coming weeks, several people approached me to share their own mental health stories. On hearing my story, they had felt empowered to finally seek help, instead of being ashamed of how they were feeling.
In fact, some also decided to share their mental health journey with the agency, too, which in turn led to regular mental health check-in sessions. Colleagues now meet up (virtually at the moment, of course) and talk freely about topics and their own personal experiences with struggles such as eating disorders, dealing with homophobia and autism in the family.
"Thinking" about mental health is not enough; we need to talk more openly about it – in this current climate, in particular. One of the things we are doing at Haygarth is conducting simple 15-minute "check-ins" with each member of the team, not to talk shop but to talk about how they are currently feeling. I believe that this can make a huge difference in reassuring each and every person that they are cared for and valued way beyond just their work capabilities. Because knowing that the people around us are listening and genuinely want to help is, I believe, the first and most important step to feeling able to navigate through difficult times and makes recovery feel all the more achievable.
It's time businesses and their leadership teams put their colleagues' mental health at the top of their agendas and created safer, more open and inclusive environments for their staff to talk about their anxieties and fears. We need to acknowledge the issues that they might be facing and be prepared to listen, support and act.
Steve Rogers is the chief creative officer at Haygarth Group