The impact of COVID-19 on our mental health.

Had you asked me in January where we would be in July, never would I have guessed that we’d be bracing ourselves for a second wave of a pandemic that has crippled the entire world. In January, we were projecting that our business would have its best year in our 20 year history of operations in Australia. Then came COVID-19.

Our agency, like most others, has taken a massive hit; 80% of our work is in large-scale business events with over 500 pax. Joe Pine, co-author of the Experience Economy, said it succinctly that with most large-scale gatherings on hold for the foreseeable future, “the dearth of live events is already taking a psychological toll, not only on those in the industry but on society at large.”1 At GPJ we have a commitment to People, Purpose and Profit; so while our purpose has not changed and I’m confident of our ability to rebuild financially, what I am most concerned with are my people and the impact that this pandemic is having on their mental health.

In an interview, Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, said: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to.”2 As an agency, we believe that live events are the antidote to loneliness and isolation, but with our physical connections severed, we’re left reliant on connecting through our screens.

Society at large was already grappling with a loneliness epidemic3 in our world long before COVID-19, but now social distancing and stay-at-home orders have only made it worse. We’ve already seen the reports coming in as researchers warn of the mental health crisis that will silently sweep across the globe in the wake of COVID-194. More concerning still is beyond the psychological impacts, loneliness and social isolation can also impact the well-being of nearly every bodily system, including the brain2. The uncertainty we face around our future coupled with the physical isolation required of us will affect us all long after a vaccine is found.

In my position, I oversee offices across both Australia and New Zealand. This region encompasses the full spectrum of COVID-19 stages - our Auckland office is now getting back to something that resembles life pre-COVID, whereas our Melbourne office is back in lockdown, bracing for the effects of a second wave. We’re all in different places physically and psychologically and we’ve all had very different experiences this year. There is a lot that separates us, but I think we should focus on what brings us together: we all have a COVID-19 story.

I think it’s important that we talk to one another and share what we’ve been going through. Now is the time to check back in to ask “Are you okay?” And this mentality should extend beyond the bounds of our own agencies to our clients, partners and suppliers. We’re not mental health professionals so we can’t necessarily help, but the act of sharing can bring us closer together. I’ve shared my own story of the pandemic through the Mentally Healthy Change Group & Heart On My Sleeve (HOMS). While I’ve had to have some of the toughest conversations in my working career, I’m fortunate that I have been able to find and focus on the silver lining that has come from all of this. You can read all of the stories from the second HOMS digital book here.

GPJ A/NZ is a proud participant of the Mentally Healthy movement which was already working to tackle the mental health issues affecting the media, marketing and creative industry. We’ve also made a commitment to their industry Minimum Standards and I would encourage all agencies to consider adopting these.

While we all learned a lot from the first wave of this pandemic, our knowledge of what to expect doesn’t make the reality of potentially having to go into lockdown again any less sour. I encourage you all to be kind to one another and talk about your experiences. If you find you need additional help, I’ve included some resource recommendations that my staff have found helpful through this time.

 

Caleb Bush, SVP & Managing Director 

1 Coronavirus Shut Down the Experience Economy.' Can it come back?
2 The Power of Human Connection
3 Millennials And The Loneliness Epidemic
4 A second silent pandemic will sweep the country alongside covid-19

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