Why the creative industry needs to start talking about men’s mental health

Held this year on November 19, International Men’s Day offers a chance to promote positive male role models, focus on men’s health and well-being issues, improve gender relations and creating a world where boys can be safe and grow to reach their full potential.

But what does this look like from a creative industries perspective? What are the challenges we face and what are agency leaders on the ground doing to address them? To mark the last International Men’s Day, we caught up with two studio heads from award-winning design and innovation agency JDO to find out.

In our frank and honest discussion, Ben Oates, Senior and Group Creative Director, and Paul Drake, Founder and Creative Director, talk about being vulnerable, compassionate for others, and understanding as agency leaders.

They also share their personal experiences leading and managing a rapidly growing and ever changing agency, their views on the importance of mental health, the pressure men face in creative careers and what needs to change.

feel lost

Making sweeping statements about an entire gender, whether male or female, is fraught with pitfalls, of course. But as a starting point, Paul thinks it’s important to be realistic about how at least some men feel right now.

“The days when it meant something to be physical and strong like a guy when we all lived in caves and risked being attacked by lions and such, all of that is over,” he begins. “While most men no longer have jobs that require – that internal need to be the alpha, the protector, the defender, the breadwinner – it still persists, not just in the deep recesses of our psyche, but in what has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, the idea of ​​what a man is meant to be and allowed to be is evolving, and that’s liberating, but it’s also confusing. I think a lot of men are a bit lost.

He’s not suggesting that society is tipping the other way and is keen to distance itself from the alpha-male rhetoric propounded by the likes of Andrew Tate. But at the same time, he thinks it’s important that we recognize the problem. “That’s probably one of the reasons why three-quarters of suicide deaths are men, and suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50,” Paul points out.

Internalizing issues

The problem is compounded, Paul adds, by the fact that men tend to bottle things up. “I know it strays into stereotypes, but I think it’s undeniable that women are talking to each other more about their issues and what’s going on in their lives,” he says. “And what I’ve observed in my wife and other women I’ve known is that they will talk about their issues. So they have kind of a support network around them that they can go to. address.

“I don’t think guys have that,” he continues. “Guys like to talk about other things when they see their mates. And maybe there’s also a slight reluctance to show that you’re not confident and struggling.” He adds that this dynamic is so powerful that, on the whole, men are not even comfortable spending time together one-on-one and therefore prefer to spend time in groups.

This bottleneck of problems can be a toxic problem in the design industry, which is already so full of pressures. In particular, Paul points to the fact that creative work is never “done” as it is in more traditional jobs.

“My dad was a builder and a carpenter, and he looks at what I’m doing and thinks, ‘It’s not hard work,'” Paul explains. “But in fact, I envy him in a way. For him, you started, you finished and you left. In our work there is no end. There is almost no right or wrong. So you’re always doubting. You lie in bed doubting and worrying about anything and everything that people don’t even see.”

The roller coaster of anxiety

Added to this is the general anxiety that plagues the profession. “You’re only as good as your last job,” Ben says. “And so the roller coaster of pitching and winning and losing has a huge impact. Many designers’ self-esteem is based on their work. You put so much heart and soul into it, and when someone ‘one says he doesn’t like it, everything can go black.”

Paul agrees. “I think I’ve spent my whole career in a state of anxiety, constantly, and it doesn’t really stop. Because there’s no ‘two plus two is four with design’; there’s no end, is there? remember when i was a junior designer, my stomach would turn, sitting all day designing, racing against the deadline.”

To some extent, this type of anxiety can be a good thing, keeping you motivated and on your toes. But it can become overwhelming and ultimately toxic.

“At some point, something is going to happen,” Paul says. “You can’t run at this speed forever.” Yet the pressures the industry is currently facing compel us to do just that. In my 20s, briefs have gotten tougher, deadlines have gotten more aggressive, and some demanding projects have moved so fast they’re almost unachievable,” says Paul.

Outside of design thinking, get lost in something. It could be crochet or something else. Either way, find that thing where you can turn off the vocals. It’s a really valuable thing to do.

find the balance

So what is the solution ? It starts, says Ben, with finding your center. “It’s such a cliche, but you need a good work-life balance,” he says. “You put your energy, your heart and your soul into your work, and we don’t want people not to. But we also want them to be able to, for example, recover from a loss, while still feeling whole and complete.”

Different people will have different coping strategies, but the important thing is that studio heads support them, Ben adds. “For example, we never criticize people when they lose. We say something like, ‘Hey, you win some, you lose some; it’s good. Either way, we’re probably too busy to do any more work…””

They also encourage their designers to take a broader view of their work rather than seeing it as a binary dynamic of success versus failure. “We all go down a rabbit hole when conceiving,” says Ben. “But you also have to take a step back to see the bigger picture of life. Recently I taught my children how to breathe and how we all forget to breathe. It gives you time to think, relaxes the brain and stop you from panicking or feeling bad or anxious.”

Be good about yourself

Paul and Ben also try to make young designers understand that you don’t have to be perfect. Indeed, they point out that despite their years in the game, rather than personally achieving perfection, they just learned to live better by not being perfect.

“Today I’m just comfortable with myself and my flaws,” Paul says. “For example, when you’re introducing a client, and you’re really in your head: you’re ahead of yourself in a sentence, trying to think of the words that sound impressive. I was doing that a lot more when I was younger. But now I’m more real and relaxed, and I don’t blame myself for small, insignificant mistakes.

“I think rather than grace under pressure, it’s about having a perspective under pressure,” Ben adds. “Just because a presentation doesn’t go 100% doesn’t mean you’re a ‘bad designer’, and it certainly won’t ruin your career.”

find focus

Ironically, he notes, men often enjoy doing activities that create more pressure. “For example, I snowboard and windsurf. Doing extreme things, which maybe have an element of danger, takes focus, and it makes you realize that all these other things are more in your head. than in reality.”

Paul offers a similar perspective. “I love riding on track on a motorcycle because it takes so much focus, lap after lap, to get better, faster and faster. You can see the quantifiable progress, but there’s also no room for any another thought. And that’s mindfulness, isn’t it?” It could be doing something other than yoga or meditation, or whatever you focus on.

“So I would say to any designer, regardless of gender, make sure you have that,” he concludes. “Outside of design thinking, get lost in something. It could be crochet or skydiving or whatever. Whatever it is, find that thing where you can turn off the vocals. It’s a really valuable thing to do.”

what we can all do

However, Paul and Ben are keen to emphasize that it shouldn’t all be about the individual. As a community, the design industry must come together and encourage each other to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe and supportive environment.

“The hope is that by sharing the challenges we have faced as creative leaders, we can help designers, of all genders, have the courage to speak up and seek the support they need. “, says Ben. “Let them know that there are strategies and communities available to help them cope with and combat the pressure and anxiety that comes with a career in creativity. And maybe by having these honest, real conversations, we can all start to feel a little better. .”




And if you want to take it a step further, of course, you can also use your design skills to promote mental health. That’s exactly what Paul does as a supporter of The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, which brings together classic and vintage-style riders from around the world to raise money and awareness for prostate cancer research and mental health. men.

In 2019 he hand-drawn over 200 sketches of bikes and cars for £50 each and raised £11,154.52. As one of the top 10 fundraisers across 121 countries and over 370,000 cyclists, he was recently featured in a Movember Foundation book celebrating the organization. You can read more and purchase copies here.

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