Mental-health distress calls surge 31% amid worsening economic outlook

Mental-health distress calls surge 31% amid worsening economic outlook

Mental health calls to media, advertising, and marketing charity NABS rose 31% year-over-year as adlanders faced the prospect of a worsening economy.

Compared to pre-pandemic figures in 2019, 2022 saw a 74% increase in mental health calls. Notably, mental health calls during the pandemic had declined compared to 2019 (2020: -45%; 2021: -2%).

On the whole, calls to the charity rose 49% in 2022 as people working across the industry clamoured for help and guidance or otherwise became aware of NABS’ services. The increase in need made 2022 NABS’ busiest year since 2018, when its services had still yet to be digitised. NABS was unable to say how many calls were made at the time of publication, but disclosed that it “reached 16,500 people across its services, events, inductions, and online support” last year (a 13% year-over-year increase).

It comes at a time of increasing emotional and financial distress among the workforce, particularly over worries related to the cost of living. A recent report from the Advertising Association found that, though inflation-adjusted annual advertising spend has increased 42% since 2011, average annual salaries in advertising (-4%) and marketing (-10%) have declined over the same period.

In November, NABS launched the Cost of Living Grant, a one-off £1,000 payment for individuals in the industry experiencing trouble in making ends meet, with a requirement that applicants have less than £5,000 in savings to qualify. In December, however, the charity had to pause applications due to an “overwhelming” amount of interest, communicating that the grant received 150% more enquiries in 36 hours than NABS’ support and upskilling grants received in the first 11 months of 2022.

Notably, two-thirds of applicants at the time were women (66%) and nearly nine in 10 (88%) were located in London; the top reasons for applying included to pay for utility bills, rent or mortgage, as well as putting food on the table.

Calls to NABS’ advice line increased by 35% year-over-year, with the top two reasons most commonly being for emotional support (37%) and financial support (36%). The latest figures show a large jump in calls for financial support, which comprised just 14% of calls to NABS’ advice line in H1 2022.

Of the emotional support calls, two-thirds (66%) were for support and guidance on mental health. Accordingly, NABS’ therapy referrals rose by 32% year-on-year.

Additional factors cited by NABS as common reasons for calls to the charity include anxieties about the geopolitical climate, the strength of the job market, and increasing stress and conflict at work.

Fears of redundancy made a resurgence after a drop in concern in 2021. Against the backdrop of a recessionary macroeconomic environment, 2022 saw a “staggering” 1,432% increase in access to NABS’ online redundancy guides.

NABS chair and deputy managing director of commercial at ITV Simon Daglish signalled that NABS will look to develop and launch a wider range of services in the near future to help as many adlanders as possible.

“We’ll be more responsive than ever,” Daglish promised, adding that NABS will look to offer new training targeted at middle managers, including group learning sessions.

NABS CEO Sue Todd said of the figures: “Our sector has always been at the forefront of technological, societal and economic change, meaning our people’s exposure to uncertainty and the need to change quickly can add extra pressure.

To thrive in these times, we need to put conversations and action about improving our collective mental wellness at the heart of what we do. This year, NABS will work harder than ever with our industry to create and strengthen the relationships and tools we need to help advance the mental wellness of ourselves and our teams, and to help people and organisations join the dots between issues and best practice. Although every individual’s challenges are different, our most effective response is collective.” 

Despite the increase in usage, NABS has seen its income decline since the beginning of the Covid pandemic. When asked to provide an update on the financial wellbeing of the charity, a spokesperson said that NABS is “focused on finding new and exciting income streams to help it plug the gap in income caused by the pandemic. This year, we’re encouraging different income streams, such as third-party fundraising events, as well as continuing to partner with our brilliant network of donors, to help us continue our vital work of supporting everybody in the industry”.

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