This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is ‘kindness’, but as lockdown continues, albeit with restrictions slightly lifted, the annual event signifies something even bigger this time around.
Many companies and agencies would ordinarily use this week to host talks, fun events, and activities, all with the aim of acknowledging mental health, furthering our understanding of the issues involved, and strengthening the company cultures that support mental wellness all year round.
But the pandemic has meant that many of us have been confined to our homes, working from laptops on kitchen tables, connected only by Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Others have been furloughed, left to sit it out until things get back up to speed.
Whatever the situation, people are adapting so that they can give this global event the attention it deserves at a time when it’s perhaps more relevant than ever.
We spoke with a selection of top brand design agencies and asked them what this week means to them, how it differs from previous years, and why it’s so important to them.
Mark Davis, Co-founder and Creative Director, me&dave
The pandemic has certainly shone a bright light on mental health. People are really feeling the effects of being separated from their friends, family and workmates – we’re all craving some real face-to-face interaction. So at me&dave we’ve come up with creative ways to keep our spirits up and ensure that we keep looking out for each other’s mental wellbeing.
Comic relief is a great remedy, so every Friday we take it in turns to host a themed quiz, with fancy dress and prizes. We love a bit of healthy competition, giving people just an hour or so to dig out whatever props they can and get creative. It brings a smile to everyone’s faces and gives us a good laugh!
As things are a little slower at home, we’ve also reduced the number of scheduled working hours to help free up everyone’s day. We’re actively promoting lunch hours, making sure people get some fresh air and a break from their screens, and take the time to make healthy meals.
Previously, this week had always been about opening up conversations around mental health. But this year, it seems to have taken on a bigger meaning. We’re proud that the unique me&dave culture of banding together and genuinely caring about each other has become even stronger.
Lisa Mitchelmore, Head of People and Culture, Ragged Edge
For Mental Health Awareness Week, we’d normally be running a programme of hands-on events in the studio. This year, we are hosting a Kindness Radio Station, Kindness FM, which will celebrate the power and potential of kindness, and the role it plays in the lives of everyone at Ragged Edge. We’ll be hearing from some special guests about what kindness means to them. We’ll also be hosting a lockdown auction fundraiser, self-care workshops, language lessons, and plant therapy classes.
Our time away from the studio is showing us how significant even a little kindness can be. Outside of all staff meetings, I feel like we are communicating more than ever. The usual, “How are you?” has become a very insightful and valuable question, with more meaning than a few months ago. I’d like that question to remain as sincere as it has over the past few weeks. The support and empathy I’ve seen across the agency has been incredibly powerful. I’ve observed relationships strengthen and solidarity within teams and individuals deepen. It’s given us an opportunity to reset and restore, avoid the everyday bustle of London life, and replace it with considered check-in time not only for ourselves, but each other.
This year is showing us why ‘kindness’ can be more than just a week-long campaign or a hashtag. We’re going to make sure that we take this mindset back to the studio with us post-pandemic.
Kendra Eash, Writer and Creative Director, and Kelli Miller, Creative Director, And/Or
This Mental Health Awareness Week could be a useful time to just get some perspective, just to take a moment and think; this pitch is not the end of the world, and great relationships and mental health are, ultimately, more important than piles of money.
When things get really tough or stressful, it can be really helpful to just kind of step back and inject some playfulness, humour, and self-awareness of what’s really important, especially now.
At And/Or, at the end of the week we play a game we stole from Amy Schumer’s podcast in which everyone goes around and says their 'rose' and their 'thorn' for the week. A 'rose' can be any positive thing, from a big thing like winning a job to a small thing like getting your favoUrite burrito, and thorns are, of course, moments that were frustrating or challenging, or really anything you want. We can get pretty silly and absurd, and we have a lot of inside jokes that help bond us as a team, but I also love welcoming new people this way too; it’s kind of a low pressure way of getting to know freelancers who might be with us for the week or getting to know people a little better based on what they reveal. But ultimately, it’s just a way of examining the week in a mindful and playful way, venting a little, and celebrating together.
Sam Wilkes, Creative Director, Vault49
At Vault49 we actively honour Mental Health Awareness Month to inspire an open, safe environment for conversation. During these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge it’s OK to not be OK.
This year, we’ve adopted Mental Health America’s awareness theme - Tools2Thrive. When it feels like everything is turned upside down, we're constantly seeking ways to reground ourselves and create our own joy. We asked our colleagues to reference their personal experiences for our Tools2Thrive Instagram Art series, and share how they’ve managed to maintain a healthy mental wellbeing while in quarantine. Whether that’s turning to escapism and playing video games, going for a long walk to clear their head, or simply soaking up the sun on their sofa for a daily dose of good vibes, everyone has their own tactics for creating positive energy.
By sharing openly we can connect with each other and feel a little less alone in these stressful times. Knowing you have people around you to support you is invaluable, especially when you’re not together. It’s OK to not be OK, but we can try to find new ways to thrive and bring more community into our lives.
Lottie Maddison, Marketing and Development Manager, StormBrands
Every part of our working culture has been shaken up by COVID-19 and we’re all feeling the effects in unique ways. So, it’s now more important than ever that we encourage open and honest conversations with each other about what is working, what isn’t and what’s next to keep supporting mental health at work.
Burnout is still a risk, even while working from home, so team calls need to also be opportunities for anyone to ask for and offer assistance. Since the lockdown began, we scheduled regular daily check-ins to provide an open line of support for everyone, both freelancers and full-time staff. More recently, we’ve joined an employee support hub which gives all of our team round-the-clock access to professional, impartial and confidential advice.
This experience has stolen from us our human connections, so it’s important to try and reform them for the social distance age. Each week, we host a video call that isn’t work-focused and encourage everyone to get partners, flatmates, or kids involved for a social catch up.
Scott Snashfold, Creative Director, Brandpie
Whilst there are certainly some benefits attached to working from home, the sudden shift to remote working has made the line between work and home increasingly blurred, and this new way of working presents a new set of challenges for everyone to adapt to.
A number of these challenges will be the same across the team, such as losing the ability to bounce ideas off each other with the ease that comes with being together in person.
But the most important and impacting challenges are the personal ones we face as a result of the individual circumstances that we each find ourselves in. These can range from difficult working environments as a result of our homes now serving as offices too, through to some more sadly unseen issues like loneliness.
With the blurred line between where work ends and home starts, along with the social distancing measures, it can feel like there is nowhere to escape to, both physically and mentally.
So, whilst it may sound a bit simplistic, some of the most important things we can all do are actually some of the easiest. Informal and frequent chats on zoom or on the phone between individuals or small groups rather than just mass-meetings means everyone’s circumstances can be heard and understood. This enables us to work together in supporting each other.
The challenges we’re currently facing may be new now, but with businesses and industries (including ours) across the world debating the need for physical offices, they will likely be here for the long-haul.
Adam Weiss, Founder and Creative Director, Landscape
I recently met Dr. Michael Fratkin. Michael runs Resolution Care – a business redefining palliative care. He signed off a recent email exchange with: “Stay safe, strong, and kind…” Simultaneously, I was reading the recent issue of Aperture magazine guest edited by Wolfgang Tillmans where he featured a quote from Meister Eckhart (~1300): “The most important hour in your life is the present — the most important person is the one whom you’re presently dealing with — and the most important work is love.”
We borrowed both of these sentiments for our most recent newsletter in the hope of inspiring some additional kindness and presence in our community.
We’re all finding our footing in new routines, tools, family dynamics, and uncertain economic terrain. Softening, remembering that simply one’s tone and temperament can lift those in the community that may need your strength.