The 1 question you should ask yourself on Mental Health Awareness Week

Nicola Kemp: The 1 question you should ask yourself on Mental Health Awareness Week

Recognise that the pressure on women in the media is unsustainable, not just on Mental Health Awareness Week, but every week.

I can’t tell you how many times I cleaned my glasses last year. But I can tell you that the glasses weren’t the problem.

The problem was right in front of my eyes. It was on the lenses of them to be exact. My cloudy vision was nothing to do with my glasses and everything to do with the cataracts in both of my eyes restricting my vision.

But I was too distracted looking elsewhere to see the obvious. I had become so consistently, constantly, endlessly busy, that I had casually disconnected from my own body.

Like many of us in the media industry, I was guilty of looking for change in all the wrong places.

It’s an approach that we so often take as both individuals and organisations when it comes to Mental Health. An issue which demands our action, not just on Mental Health Awareness Week, but every week.

Addressing media’s change malaise

I am not a mental health expert. I am not a trained medical professional. I have no personal experience of the black dog of depression.

I am a trained Mental Health first aider. While I wholeheartedly recommend the course, my biggest learning was how ill-equipped I am to deal with mental health issues in the workplace.

I am painfully aware that two days of training, while undoubtedly time well spent, does not even scratch the surface.

Equipping anyone to deal with one of the most complex and challenging issues of our age demands a fundamental step change in both business and society.

Women still carry the emotional load

So while I would never claim to be an expert in mental health, let me tell you what I do know.

Women in the media industry are overwhelmed by their workloads.  Women are routinely rushed by the expectations of others. Unravelling under the weight of unreasonable expectations. Even when those expectations are their own.

There are women I admire deeply in this industry, changing the game with their work, yet grinding themselves into nothing.

Trapped in a perpetual cycle of feeling they constantly need to prove themselves over and over again.

This week, like many other awareness raising moments in our collective calendar, it will be the women in our businesses carrying the mental and emotional load.

Organising the panel discussions, driving the employee resource groups forward and facing never-ending expectations to be the default  ‘office mother’.

Stop perpetually proving yourself

I have spent two decades researching and writing about the experiences of women in the media industry. I’ve spoken to women who have experienced sexual harassment, maternity discrimination, ageism.

I’ve listened to a woman who had to share a Villa in Cannes with the CEO who harassed them sob with distress.

I’ve spoken with a woman who was sent on a team-building retreat with a man who was being investigated by the police for stalking her.

Women who have been forced out of jobs.

Women of colour who have been endlessly critiqued for calling out creative campaigns perpetuating stereotypes.

I’ve worked with female magazine editors who have had flexible working requests denied by female publishers because “that’s what I had to do, so you have to suck it up, too”.

Women who have internalised the violence they have experienced after non-disclosure agreements callously robbed them of the right to speak of their experiences, let alone heal from them.

Women on maternity leave who have found out their jobs have been given away via a press release.

I’ve seen the steel of the female CMO who patiently sat through a pitch presentation from the media agency that fired her for being pregnant.

I’m on WhatsApp Groups bursting with brilliant digital marketers, who happen to be women, where bullying, drinks being spiked at industry events and the seemingly never-ending line up of “manels” continue to dominate discussions.

I mentor brilliant women on the cusp of brilliance, yet disconnected from the wider industry, who feel isolated and overlooked.

But above all else I speak with women who are burnt out by the cult of busy. Always on and never present.

Women who are struggling with their mental health as a result of being overworked, overwhelmed and underpaid.

In this ecosystem is it any wonder that research from Bloom reveals that 93% of women say a lack of work life balance has negatively impacted their mental health?

Women carry the emotional load in media

So in place of platitudes this Mental Health Awareness Week I ask you to ask yourself, regardless of gender: are you contributing to a workplace culture which is having a negative impact on mental health?

I can see clearly now because I have the privilege of working for a company with private healthcare and kind, compassionate colleagues.

It’s the structures we invest in and the cultures we build all year round which have the biggest impact on employee wellbeing.

We are so quick to turn to one-off initiatives but the truth is the lived experiences of employees in our industry remind us that we aren’t getting the basics right.

When we can see clearly it’s obvious that our cycle of endless initiatives mean we are in danger of looking for change in all the wrong places.

It’s OK for women in our industry to recognise it is not their job to solve every given problem, without the tools and investment they need to achieve meaningful change.

It’s OK to say no to unsustainable workloads.

It’s OK to invest in DEI, rather than expecting the women in your businesses to carry the weight of change alone.

There are women in our industry moving mountains while existing on fumes. Trans+ women changing our media’s hateful narratives on a shoestring. All the while watching their revenue streams dry up.

There are Black women committed to redefining the experience of women in media, regardless of the personal cost. Yet all are being held to crushingly impossible standards.

Companies contributing to these crushing standards, who sidestep issues such as fair pay, manageable workloads and flexible working have no business talking about mental health, this week or any week.

It’s time to stop burning out the very best of our business. Those lighting the fire of genuine change so long overdue.


Nicola Kemp has spent over two decades writing about diversity, equality and inclusion in the media. She is now editorial director of Creativebrief. She writes for The Media Leader each month.

Career Leaders: The Media Leader‘s weekly supplement with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated about media careers, training, development and wellbeing.
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