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Design agencies speak out on mental health

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Illustrations: Vault49

Today marks World Mental Health Day, an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.

The subject has become more important than ever as the world continues to change and this year's theme is suicide prevention.

But there are many aspects of mental health and the subject is important every day with people struggling with their own personal battles both at work and away from the office.

Below, three design agency representatives let us in on how they deal with mental health in their workplace.

Lottie Maddison, studio & social media co-ordinator, StormBrands

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Our approach to mental health at work is simple: we care for each other like family.

We have a studio culture built on a foundation of trust, respect and honesty for each other in an ego-free zone, no matter the job title. And that’s key to creating an environment where people are comfortable enough to ask for (and receive) help and support if they need it.

Taking some time out from the work environment and finding a neutral space with no strict agenda help to change the dynamic and speak openly. We find this approach works better than anything more formal or structured. 

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Employees and their line-managers are encouraged to regularly set aside time to grab a coffee together for an informal catch up to talk about anything they have on their minds, not just work-related. We use these check-ins as a space to voice concerns, ask questions and, most importantly, listen to each other. The point is that people feel comfortable and supported enough to talk about how they are feeling.

We also nurture relationships outside of the studio. Wherever possible, we arrange social activities as a way of building personal relationships within the team. Recently we attended a charity cookery workshop, spending the day together making some wonderful memories and learning new skills.

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Charlie Smith, creative director, Charlie Smith Design

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Particularly within a small team, if someone is struggling with mental health, trying to hide your struggle can add to stress levels. I’ve always been very open and always available to talk to any of my team about anything going on and encourage the team to be the same. As the Creative Director, it’s important that all my team know that I’m available to talk to. 

We have a less structed approach to mental health because we believe that within a team of our size, in being flexible is key to supporting someone who might need it. When one of the team has come to me with an issue, we’ve managed to address any issues or concerns they have very early on.

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There is a great feeling of camaraderie, both when it comes to deadlines and socialising outside of work. As a studio, we look out for each other, we socialise together and take any worthwhile opportunities for team to doing any workshops, whether that’s for personal or professional development. Flexibility and adaptability are also key. One of our team recently moved to Bath, she and I both wanted her to stay, so we’ve worked out system that supports her working from home half the week. 

Two of the team work nine-day fortnights as they both have other things to accommodate and full-time hours would make that difficult. During another team member’s pregnancy, we discussed ways to offer greater flexibility and make her life a bit easier. We arranged a parking space so she could drive in to work and began hosting some meetings on Skype, so she didn’t need to travel.

Hayley Hogan, senior account manager and member of the Mental Wellbeing initiative, Vault49

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At Vault49 we’ve launched a Mental Wellbeing Initiative which involves activities to promote mindfulness and boost daily morale. For example, we’ve engaged professional speakers to come in and talk to us about mental wellness, wellbeing tips and finding a sense of purpose. We share information, foster conversation and encourage one another to look after ourselves and give back to the community through volunteer work.

We have an open culture around taking a Mental Health Day so you can go back to feeling like ‘you’. We also create quarterly newsletters that curate articles, thought leaders and other inspirational content related to mental wellbeing.

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Illustrations Vault49 has previously created to raise awareness around mental health

Our goal is to create a safe space for us all to discuss mental wellness and to feel comfortable sharing personal experiences among colleagues and professionals.

During a professional speaker session, I opened up about sometimes feeling self-doubt at work and thinking: ‘Did I say the right thing?’ As a result, a colleague approached me afterwards to say she often felt exactly the same and was comforted to know she wasn’t alone.

We’ve seen mental wellness and personal care discussed much more freely and I’ve personally witnessed colleagues seeking advice, speaking up when they’re struggling, or connecting with others on personal mental wellness experiences.

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