Anxiety Empire Strives To Improve Mental Health In The Creative Industries

Words: Sophie Henderson

1 in 4 of us will suffer from mental illness, yet only 11% of sufferers talk to their employer about their mental health. It was for this reason that Zoë Hough founded Anxiety Empire. We talked to the creative, based in both London and Berlin, about her progressive journey – building a non-profit to help improve the mental health of people working in the creative industries.


When and where did it begin, and what is its main aim?

I was working in an ad agency that was having a pretty bad effect on my mental health. On a day when I’d called in sick with the flu (because I didn’t feel able to say that I needed the time off because of depression), I had the idea to set up a kind of non-profit consultancy to help agencies make their workplaces more inclusive for people with mental health issues… because it’s not that I think employers don’t want to create better environments and structures to support their staff’s mental health, I just think often they don’t have the time or knowledge as to how to begin or what to implement.

A lot of HR departments are now making mental health a priority, which is great and much needed, but my experience from speaking to friends in the industry, and from contacting people for our blog, is that many people still don’t feel comfortable speaking openly about their mental health issues, so there’s still a long way to go to dismantle the stigma. 1 in 4 of us will suffer with our mental health – from the creative director to the new intern. So, we’re trying to play our part in few ways…. through talks and workshops, through Instagram and our blog, and we also have a few products in the pipeline.


As a long-serving sufferer of anxiety myself, do you recommend a particular way to cope with mental health difficulties and a fast paced job in the creative industries?

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, as everyone has different mental health. For me personally I’ve found that being open about what things trigger problems for my mental health has reduced the pressure to ‘conform to the norm’. Taking ownership of what I can’t do because of my anxiety, and communicating this, allows me to focus on doing what I can do, and then I have more energy to try to do that well rather than expending energy in anxiety over the things I can’t.

UK workplaces are required to show the HSE (Health and Safety executive) ‘Health and Safety’ Poster – shown in the second image – which gives info about health in the workplace. But it makes zero mention of mental health. 🤦‍♀️🤦‍♂️ Because we know there is no health without mental health we went ahead and made a poster with the info we think the HSE has missed out 🤓 . You can download the poster for free and put it up next to the HSE poster in your workplace – link in bio. . Would love to hear your thoughts on what you think should be included on the poster #comment #discuss #discussion . . . #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #anxiety #depression #poster #posterdesign #graphicdesign #creativeindustry #creative #workplace #health #healthandsafety #create #creativecommunity #itsokaynottobeokay #officelife #endthestigma #endthestigmaofmentalillness #advertising #media #marketing

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To try to help support workplaces and those of us who work in them, we’ve just released a ‘Mental Health and Safety’ Poster. Workplaces in the UK are required to display the HSE ‘Health and Safety’ poster, but it has zero mention of mental health. Because we all know that there is no health without mental health, we made our poster to include some of the information we feel the HSE is missing. It’s free to download, so we hope people will print it off at work and stick it up next to the HSE poster in their office.

I think one of the particular difficulties of working in the creative industry is that the work can feel so personal –  our ideas, our designs, our words, our strategies… they all come from our hearts, and so often feel very personal. Therefore getting stressed, pulling all nighters, getting irritated with people who aren’t working how we want them to; this can all feel reasonable because the project is our ‘baby’. But I think as individuals and as an industry we need to think about the ways in which we work and the pressure we put on ourselves, and on each other.


Are you aware of certain stigmas in the workplace, considering anxiety is such a widespread concern?

People will have their own reasons, but for me the underlying reason for the stigma is because of fear; a fear of being seen as ‘less’ – less capable at the job, less able, less reliable, less ‘good’ as a person. Which is not true, but when you can’t see peers, or bosses or mentors being open about difficulties with their mental health then you can feel alone and this fear can take hold.


Can sufferers contribute to your site? And what sort of content do you have on offer?

We’re really happy when people would like to share their experience, so do get in touch if you’d like to contribute to our blog. Some people choose to write anonymously, which is just a reflection of the current reality: the stigma is real.

On the site employers can also get in touch to arrange a talk or workshop – which will be tailored to their business and the people in it.


Looking ahead, what would you like to achieve with the platform? Do you have a long-term goal?

With physical health and safety in the workplace the onus isn’t all on the employee – and it shouldn’t be for mental health either. So our goal is support people who are suffering – for them to know they are not alone and to share information about ways to help aid their recovery – but also to help employers to take responsibility and make changes for the benefit of their employees’ mental health.

That’s quite a lot words, perhaps it’s easier to sum it up with: #endthestigma