Ruby Wax: waving the flag for mental health change
In an age where celebrity is perceived as king it is powerful when those in the public eye speak out about their struggles with mental health. They normalise the subject for us mortals while their celebrity sparkle boosts the number of column inches devoted to the issue.
And Ruby Wax, speaking to Marketing Society members on Wednesday, did that in spades.
The comedian has become one of the country’s most vocal supporters of mental health issues, speaking out about her own experience of depression in her stand-up tours and a series of books.
It may come as a surprise that Wax doesn’t think stress itself is a problem in modern society, saying instead that the problem lies in the degree to which we get stressed about being stressed. “Why are we so mean to ourselves?” she said. “You wouldn’t treat your pet this badly. We’re always so wired, scared about what’s going to get us next – salt or North Korea?”
But amid the quick-witted delivery the comedian – who has a Masters in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy – reminded us of some shocking statistics. 1 in 4 people suffer with mental illness while £704bn is lost every year in business as a result.
Her own solution to keeping her mental health in check lies in that buzz word of 2017: mindfulness. Combined with cognitive therapy it allows her to self-regulate the cortisol levels in her brain. She likens this “mental work out” to looking after your physical wellbeing with small daily steps. “If you can get cortisol down a little bit every day you can get it under control, but you have to do it every day just like going to the gym.”
There has been an abundance of publicity around Mental Health Awareness week, but Wax has the perfect combination of witty delivery, medical knowledge and – crucially – personal experience that made this talk so engaging. Mental illness is not unique to our industry and Wax was not on stage to tell us where we’re going wrong. Instead she is waving the flag for change: yes businesses need to be more accepting of mental health – just as they would be of a physical illness – but with a little mindfulness we may be able to tackle this pandemic at source and stand a chance of reversing the tide.
On the cause of stress: “We always blame technology. We’re always pointing the finger, saying everyone else is the enemy, but the enemy is in our heads. Unless we deal with the conflict the problem won’t go away.”
On listening to your body: “People get busier and busier and they ignore the sound of it creeping up, but it’s about observing what’s going on in your mind and spotting when you’re at ‘red mist’.”
On mindfulness: “One day there will be a way to measure and control cortisol release on our own, but for now mindfulness is the next best thing.”
On speaking out: “I didn’t [admit I had a problem] sooner because it would have meant bye bye career.”
On the stigma around mental health: “The world will not be fair until there’s parity between physical and mental illness.”
This piece was by Sarah Wragg, Group Communications Director, Media, Havas UK. Follow her @SCBouvoir