by Herman Manson (@marklives) Mental health and wellbeing have long been a subject of discussion in virtually every industry you can think off. Yet, in the South African advertising and marketing industries, at least, little headway seems to have been made in going beyond talking. Not even our ad industry body, the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA), could offer any input on the issue. Industry leaders, to a large extent, wouldn’t discuss the issue on the record.

While agencies and industry bodies have released research on the state of mental health and wellbeing in the Australian and UK industry markets, among others, much of the local industry hasn’t engaged with the subject matter in any substantial way.

Everymind, an Australian-based institute, describes mental health as a “positive concept related to the social and emotional wellbeing of individuals and communities” and notes that it relates back to enjoyment of life, finding the ability to cope with stress and sadness, goal fulfilment and having the capability to build and maintain relationships (also in the workplace).

Bullying and sexual harrasment

Bullying and sexual harassment are two key issues impacting on mental health and wellness. How many ECDs, specifically, are walking the aisles of some of SA’s well-known ad agencies, unchecked and with heavily censored HR reports, building a reputation for extreme abuse? If they’re ever bounced from the agency to their next unsuspecting employer, it’s done with a smile and clap on the back.

The UK-based timeTo report for 2018 shows the scale of sexual harassment in our industry [pdf file] in the UK: 26% of those surveyed had been sexually harassed while working in the advertising and marketing industry — 34% of female respondents and 9% of male respondents. Some 72% of those who have been sexually harassed have been harassed more than once. Distrusting reporting systems, 83% of those harassed said they didn’t officially report their experiences. Bosses and managers were by far the most-common perpetrators (82%). Asked if they believed perpetrators of sexual harassment often get away with, 66% of respondents agreed.

Employment and workplace

Understanding mental health and wellbeing is obviously complex, and perspectives will differ between individuals, as well as in communities. Although employment and the workplace (environment) are two single factors among many influencing our state of mind and wellbeing, they do take on an outsize influence, given the amount of stress and anxiety a workplace may generate plus the amount of time we spend there and the number of relationships we need to maintain.

The research study, Mentally Healthy 2018, conducted by Everymind, Never Not Creative and UnLtd in 2018 into mental health and wellbeing of the media, marketing and creative industries in Australia, found that burnout and stress are two widespread issues facing industry professionals. The report found that 20% more participants in media/marketing/creative industries showed mild-to-severe symptoms of depression, compared to national data, and 29% more showed symptoms of anxiety.

Higher levels of depression

The creative industry itself showed higher levels of depression (at 61%, compared to 53% in marketing and 46% in media). “Stress was a key contributor that may impact on mental health with 57% of employees showing symptoms of stress and 18% showing signs of severe or extremely severe stress,” the authors found. Almost half the industry worked more than the average eight hours a day and a third worked on a weekend more than once a month.

Over in the UK, NABS, a support organisation for the advertising and media industry, found that two-thirds of industry professionals who participated in its survey has considered leaving due to poor wellbeing. A staggering 60% said work has had a negative impact on their wellbeing over the previous 12 months and 46% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to their line manager if work were having a negative impact on their mental health.

Time to act now

Agencies need to have clear policies and procedures in place encouraging mental health and wellbeing, plus addressing harassment, with additional focus on addressing sexual harassment specifically. The time for sweeping such behaviour conveniently under the carpet has passed — it’s time the industry got its act together.

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Herman Manson 2017Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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