COVID induced depression is very real and is presenting a real threat to our industry. We take a look at ways to avoid it.
In Australia, Thursday, September 9th is ‘R U OK? Day‘. Never before has this mental health awareness day been more pertinent or necessary. As human beings, we are social animals; it is in our very DNA and a truly vital part of the human experience. For many of us, suffering necessary strict lockdown rules, the isolation has been a distraction and an inconvenience. However, for many others, it continues to be incredibly stressful and damaging.
Here at Tangram, we recognize the need to look after ourselves, our colleagues and clients.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”Glenn Close.
COVID Induced Depression in Advertising and Marketing
For most agencies, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen an end to office life and all the social interaction that goes with it. Offices have closed and business meetings conducted online. Those terrific business trips and lunches that we all enjoyed have become a thing of the past, confined to our memory banks.
Excellent software like Zoom and Google Meet has become industry standard and our only connection with the outside world. They are good but no complete replacement for real life. For many people, the transition from real-life meetings to online chat has been a smooth experience. However, for many others, it has not.
These online meetings certainly have provided some interesting and humorous incidents. Who will ever forget the American lawyer who went online with a filter engaged during a virtual court session? The filter resulted in the judge chatting with a cartoon cat in the very funny exchange shown below.
While these incidents are indeed a welcome bit of fun, the mundanity and loneliness of complete isolation can be insidious and severely damaging.
Spotting the Symptoms of COVID Induced Depression
We all must strive to recognize symptoms of COVID induced depression, not just in ourselves but in others as well. The signs to look out for are:
Failure to get a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleep problems are probably the most common symptom of depression. They are exacerbated by inactivity. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine that sleep has become a huge issue for many people during the pandemic. Keep a lookout for friends and colleagues who look constantly tired.
Most of us don’t notice when a friend or colleague passes a simple compliment. But subconsciously, they do sink in. We all like to be valued. To suddenly go months on end without a reassuring word or a kindly arm around the shoulder can be devastating. Your normally bright and confident associates can suddenly become listless and self-absorbed. This unusual introverted behavior is a sure sign that they are depressed.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
With nothing to do in the evenings, it is easy to simply flop in front of the TV with a drink. It is however also noticeable that for many, those one or two drinks can soon become binge drinking. The more we drink, the more we can hold, and the slide into abusive drinking is not to be underestimated. Many of our family friends and work colleagues like a drink. The report by Mentally Healthy mentioned below concluded that 51% of people increased their alcohol intake during lockdowns. Look out for changes in drinking patterns. Starting to drink early in the day is an obvious sign.
Self Imposed Isolation
This is almost counter-intuitive. COVID induced depression causes a feeling of isolation which in turn causes people to withdraw. At a time when isolation is being forced on people, some deal with it by sinking ever deeper in solitary confinement. It is all too easy to slip into bad habits when one lacks the energy and drive to get up and about. It does seem strange, but people who deal badly with being alone, often exacerbate the problem by remaining in their rooms. If colleagues are not going to the shops or even can’t be bothered getting dressed, this might be a sign that intervention could be helpful.
If you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself reach out for help. Importantly is you spot them in others reach out to them.
Where We Are At
It is not all doom and gloom. While reports of Covid induced depression and stress have increased, our ability to discuss it has improved. A report by Mentally Healthy concluded that compared to 2018, we are 24% more likely to be open to disclosure of depression. 22% of us believe that we will not be treated differently by our peers. In addition, 39% disagreed with the statement that we would be treated poorly.
This move away from the stigma attached to mental health is extremely encouraging. More than 50% of people now accept that their mental health is less than perfect. It is no great leap for us to accept that if we are less than perfect, others might be worse off and indeed suffering.
“Mental Health is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive not where you’re going”Noam Shpancer Ph.D.
The pandemic has given many of us pause for thought on the topic of mental health. It is encouraging that we are finally talking openly about the topic. Tangram’s door is always open to any of our colleagues and clients, who may be feeling more stressed than usual. In the Mentally Healthy report, they state that 68% of respondents believe that their employer takes the mental health of their staff seriously. Here at Tangram, we absolutely do.
Ok, so we’ve seen the data and heard the stories, what can we do to fight back. COVID induced depression is not terminal. There is much that we can do to tackle the effects and indeed turn the negatives into positives. Many people have found real benefits to this sudden and brutal change in our lifestyle.
Self Induced Pressure
In so many cases the stress is completely self-induced. It is known within the industry that our own expectations are causing more stress than anything else during the pandemic. Advertising has always been a high-pressure business, but because of these unique conditions, many are piling on the stress. In most cases it is unwarranted.
Managers need to ensure that their workers understand clearly just what is expected of them. Don’t pile extra pressure on where it is not needed. Communication is key. From the employees’ point of view, talk openly with your bosses. If the stress is getting to you, talk before it becomes unmanageable.
Use the enforced changes to adapt to a healthier lifestyle. If you didn’t drink at home before then why change that? Abstinence over a few months is a real positive step towards a healthier life. It is well known that people suffering from anxiety and or depression are 3 times more likely to drink to excess. At the same time, drinking causes depression. So break the cycle.
There are plenty of health drinks on the market and there has never been a better time to try them. Buy a blender and make your own nutritious smoothies. It is relatively easy to replace one meal a day with a healthy drink.
This is something that cannot be overstated. Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) has been well recognized for decades now. You must get as much sunlight as possible. Open your windows wide and let the fresh air in. In most cases, the air is fresher than it has ever been, especially for city dwellers.
If you are lucky enough to have a balcony, work from there. It is a huge advantage to sit outside, weather permitting, getting one’s work done. If you are not in a lockdown, try going out to a cafe to work. A change of scenery is a huge uplift.
Seek Professional Help
So many people will be surprised to hear that the report found that 32% of respondents had spoken to a psychiatrist in the last 12 months. You are not alone if you’re feeling that this is all too much to handle. In many cases, a chat with a trained professional can make an instant difference. For many, the mere acceptance that they need help is the biggest step. It can also achieve the biggest improvements.
From the employer’s point of view, be open to the idea of bringing in professional help. It doesn’t have to be full-time. Having someone online and available for consult can be of tremendous help for your company. COVID induced depression creates anxious workers who underperform. Sometimes the solution is less clear and yet easily achieved.
We are all in this together. The separation that we are feeling is worldwide. Instead of seeing it as something affecting only you, look at it as the new normal. Never before has ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ been more relevant.
The COVID pandemic has thrown up previously un-encountered problems. But it has also given us previously unthought-of opportunities. Grasp them. It is a time of change for the advertising industry. Change is good.
If this article has raised concerns for yourself or a colleague please contact a helpline in your country.