"Our Silent Partner" Speaks Out

By Alixandra Rutnik Posted on Jun 23, 2020

Laurel Stark and Victoria Rosselli link artistic expression to mental health

This past May was Mental Health Awareness Month, but the issues it addresses don't disappear once the calendar switches to June. So when Laurel Stark, Freelance Writer, Creative Director, & Co-Founder of Next Creative Leaders teamed up with FCB Chicago Art Director Victoria Rosselli to highlight creativity and mental health, they knew this would be an ongoing conversation. Their ideas became “Our Silent Partner,” a resource for the creative community to reflect on and share their mental battles anonymously through art and stories.

We had an opportunity to interview Laurel and Victoria, diving deeper into the topic of mental health in order to understand the importance of their initiative.

Mental health is definitely an important and personal topic to talk about, so how did the idea for Our Silent Partner come about?

Laurel: Victoria and I bonded on Twitter over our personal experiences as creatives who struggled with mental health. When we got the shelter-in-place orders, we started to really get concerned about the mental and emotional wellbeing of our creative community, who suddenly found themselves isolated at home, navigating uncertainty and chaos, parenthood and work-life, and grief, both for the world at large and the lives we left behind. But with all of our leaders focused on the logistics and operations of transitioning a workforce into a work-from-home-force, no one was addressing the mental health implications we knew were already brewing. So we thought what better way to get adland talking about mental health than to turn our once-hidden, personal struggles into very public creative work?

Talk to us about the meaning of the name Our Silent Partner.

Laurel: In advertising, we’re very used to the concept of partnerships, and if you think about it, mental health is our partner, too. In fact, it’s the one partner we all have, but we never talk about it. Mental health impacts everything we do — for good or bad — in the office and out. We wanted to acknowledge how much of an impact that mental health has on our work and working experiences. Right now our mental health is still very much a silent partner, but one we’re hoping to give voice to through this initiative.

When did you start working on this?

Victoria: We began in April and launched during Mental Health Awareness Month in May. We reached out to a diverse group of creatives who have shared (either publicly or privately) their struggles with mental health, and we asked them to create a piece of work that reflected their personal experience living and working with their diagnosis. Since we anonymized the work, this encouraged people to share their raw feelings without a filter — something that is so important for breaking the stigma.

Since launching, we’ve briefed more creatives who reached out with a desire to be a part of the project. We’re continuing to think of how we can show up and make ourselves a resource to all of adland — including looking at the intersection of racism and mental health and the impact on Black creatives. We’re committed to using our privilege and our platform with OSP to support Black creatives in sharing their experiences and finding the support and resources they need to care for themselves.

Why did you decide to make all the art and stories for OSP anonymous?

Laurel: This decision was twofold: One, we’re acknowledging that there still is a stigma when it comes to mental health, and we wanted to both protect our collaborators and encourage them to participate and express their experiences honestly. The second reason is we wanted to paint a picture that mental health challenges really are universal. They impact us in a broad scope of ways, at every stage of our careers, and in every type of creative role. We thought that by anonymizing the names, we put the focus on the diagnosis and the experience of struggling with mental health.

This project makes a clear connection between creativity and mental health stories and diagnoses...

Victoria: Brand and agency leadership seem to struggle with how to talk about mental health, but they can’t seem to stop talking about creative work. So to get them talking, we decided to use creative work as the medium to start the conversation around mental health. And if there’s one thing creatives know how to do, it’s how to tell a story and cater it to the appropriate audience.

"We decided to use creative work as the medium to start the conversation around mental health."

It can feel scary to open up, so what do you think are some steps we can take in order to normalize the discussion of mental health moving forward?

Victoria: With OSP, our primary desire was to get people talking. Now we need to listen, as individuals, but also as a creative community. What’s the point of asking people to be courageous and open with their mental health experiences if we’re not willing to listen, learn, and then act? The fear of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing can too often lead to a lack of action, and with the status of our industry and the pandemic, we can’t afford not to act right now.

Even if we start with small things likehaving  managers check in regularly with their folks who are working long hours, or encouraging people to take a mental health day when they need it. Those small actions can go a long way towards helping creatives avoid burnout — which is real and can have a severe impact on our mental health.

How do both of your experiences with mental health related issues contribute to this project?

Laurel: The Isolated Talks we gave to promote the launch of OSP was the first time I’ve ever spoken publicly about my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating. While it was initially scary to be so honest, this whole project has been such a healing experience for me. While I’ve used medication in the past, to help manage my symptoms, I’m not currently medicated. For me, the biggest help in managing my anxiety has been learning my triggers through talk therapy and learning how to work through them with meditation, exercise, sleep-regulating, and asking for help.

Victoria: I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and ADHD as a young teen. It wasn’t until my mental health struggles affected my performance at work when I realized I needed to speak up. Over the years, I’ve overcome the shame of my mental health issues through medication when I needed it, therapy, and gradually gaining acceptance for myself and my struggles. I learned how to channel my anxiety towards my passions and how to use my ADD to my creative advantage by exploring every idea that filters through my mind.

Why do you think it is important to create a community to reflect and share mental health struggles?

"...our industry appeals to people who are more likely to struggle with mental health issues."

Laurel - It was important that we show how common mental health issues are in the creative community so that people who are struggling don’t feel alone and so that industry leadership realizes this is something that impacts all of us, our working experiences, and the work itself. We crowd-sourced this creative because we wanted to create a platform where anyone, in any role, at any stage in their career, with any background, could speak to their personal experience and acknowledge a larger truth: that our industry appeals to people who are more likely to struggle with mental health issues (neuro-diverse, able to connect deeply with others, see the world through a unique lens, etc.), but that the typical work expectations of agency life (long hours, tight deadlines, stress, and pressure to perform) aren’t exactly compatible with caring for your mental health.

How has Our Silent Partner evolved since its launch?

Laurel: Obviously in the past month, we've seen a much-needed national and industry-wide reckoning around rampant racism. We know racism has a massive impact on the Mental Health of Black people, and we want to show our solidarity for Black Creatives and their experiences. We added a resource section to our site that lists Mental Health resources specifically by and for Black people. Victoria and I will be donating to one of three Black Mental Health funds (that provide Black people with free or discounted access to mental healthcare) for every new Mental Health story or artwork submission that we receive for OSP, now through the end of July. It's a small thing, but it's one way we can help that aligns with our values and OSP's purpose. Email us to get involved.



Are you a talented womxn with creative work to share? You should enter Next Creative Leaders! The deadline to enter is July 31st.



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