The struggle to switch off

The truth is that there is still a stigma attached to speaking about mental health in the workplace. Therefore some people chose to speak about their mental health anonymously. This person has worked for over a decade as a successful art director in London ad agencies.


Hey, first up, how is your mental health?

Right now, it’s better than it has been in ages. But I think I was depressed for years, but it was never formally diagnosed.

You freelance as an art director in advertising. The advertising industry is notoriously fast-paced, and one where every project requires you to be at the top of your creative game. Do you enjoy this pressure, or do you have methods to cope with it?

I enjoy this pressure most of the time. But then, having said that, I often dream about being on a pitch and not being able to deliver, or not being chosen for a project because my work isn't good enough, so there has got to be some deeper levels of anxiety there that I'd prefer not to consciously acknowledge.

Are there parts of the freelance life which you find particularly difficult in relation of mental health?

Looking for work is stressful. Being out of work is stressful. I have also found having a baby stressful. I now feel like a 'half time harry', and feel as if it might seem that I don’t take the work seriously, because I’m no longer prepared to work weekends or late every night when pitching and occasionally I need to leave ‘early’ (which would be 'on time' in many other industries!).

The creative process can feel like it lurches on a rollercoaster between 'this is ok', 'this is shit - i am shit' and 'this is great - i am a genius'. Do you experience this emotional rollercoaster, and if so how does it affect your mental health?

I do. Generally I think my work is all shit and it makes me want to give up. It certainly gets me down and, as I said, the feeling that all my work is shit and I've messed up my career, is something that features quite heavily in my dreams.

For the readers it should be said that, from an outsiders perspective, this person has a very successful career, worked in well-known agencies, made great work and even won industry awards for their work.

Is there a process you follow to get your best ideas?

I have my best ideas when I'm not thinking about it - on a break, on a walk at lunch, when I'm not stressed. Certainly when I'm feeling stressed or anxious those good ideas are harder to come by.

Do you feel the need to switch off from work, and if so how do you do that?

Desperately! I think it's the switching off that gives you the inspiration and without it you can easily end up burnt out. I try to meditate, workout, run, dance, walk and read. When I'm in a good place at work this happens naturally. But generally when work gets crazy I eat like shit, don't exercise and never go outside, so it's easy to fall into a downward spiral - ironically just when you need to switch off most.

Do you think advertising has the power to change society? If so, in what way would you like to change it?

I'd like to think so. I'd love to use my skills for good by influencing the way people eat. So helping them make healthier, more informed choices about natural foods, rather than brainwashing them into thinking that foods that are loaded with sugar and hyper-processed are actually healthy.

There is still a stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace - how does it feel to be writing about it here?

It feels awkward and a little embarrassing. But also cathartic. There's a relief in knowing it's finally ok to open up about these things. The reason I've decided to remain anonymous is because of my negative views on the industry - I don’t want to be perceived as someone who can’t hack the pace and isn't suited to advertising and lose work because of it.

Thank you so much for sharing. Let's hope the industry sheds this reputation soon, and more agencies show themselves as being open and inclusive for people with mental health issues. #endthestigma #1in4