A mental health Q+A with Kelsey Eliason

Kelsey Eliason, an Associate Creative Director/Copywriter at Arc, was recently named a 2022 Rising Star by the Chicago Advertising Federation for being a flourishing creative leader in the industry and a driving force in the areas of mental and emotional wellbeing. 


In observance of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Kelsey about mental health advocacy and her take on how industry professionals can begin to prioritize their total wellbeing by setting boundaries, communicating expectations and recognizing signs of burnout.




When did you discover your passion for mental health and where did it stem from?


My journey started just a few years ago. In 2019, Conscious Mind (a Publicis Groupe Employee Resource Group) offered a 10-week course on mental wellness allyship and that was my first foray into mental health. Soon after that, some members of my family came out about their various mental health conditions and everything I had learned started to matter more. More instances and signs were brought to my awareness, driving me in the direction of mental health and advocacy.


I soon started to think about how creative industries weren’t really talking about mental wellbeing. Creatives are expected to make something out of nothing every day yet taking care of our minds hasn’t been prioritized nor significantly discussed, historically. I try to encourage my teams and family to prioritize their mental health, and to show support in whatever way looks helpful to them.


What are some ways that you model more healthy behavior? 


Boundaries and communicating expectations. I am very open and upfront with my teams about my boundaries and my needs. I go to therapy and have scheduled biweekly appointments and I also have a pottery class that I attend a couple nights a week. I let my teams know that I have blocks of time that I need them to respect, and I save space for them to do the same. A few other things that I do:


●      I try to take a mental health day every quarter, where I have nothing planned. 

●      I talk to my doctors to give me advice on how I can handle a variety of issues, such as performance anxiety. It’s reassuring to know that you don’t have to figure these things out alone.

●      I maintain open communication with my manager and team about what I need.


How has your leadership been impacted by your commitment to mental health?


Starting therapy was a tough decision and finding the right therapist has been a journey. But because of the discussions I have had with my therapist, I am a better manager and a better teammate. Therapy has given me new perspectives and ways of appreciating what someone else might be going through that’s affecting their productivity. It’s also given me permission to seek any help I may need and not feel ashamed or nervous about it. 


I hope my team’s feelings and experiences are validated and that they feel seen as a result of my leadership. At the end of the day, I want everyone I work with to feel supported in growing into their best selves, no matter what that looks like.


What are your thoughts on how well the advertising agency is doing to achieve a healthier environment?


By 2019, I think the industry was finally starting to figure out that mental health needs to be prioritized in a bigger way. We started seeing agency meditations and yoga classes pop up, and trainings about burnout. Then the pandemic hit and a new set of challenges presented themselves such as isolation, how to work in virtual environments, career stagnation and general anxiety about the future. I still think the industry has a long way to go. 


Candidly, we need more leaders modeling healthy behavior—employees need to see them walking the walk and hear them encouraging it at the same time. From an agency perspective, we are all humans. Not robots. Our schedules need to reflect that—staffing plans need to be created taking into consideration mental capacity, not just time capacity.


What advice do you have for those who are just starting their wellness journey?


Mental health looks different for everyone so instead of specific things to do, here are some questions to ask yourself:

●      What are your boundaries? Figure out your boundaries and discuss them with your manager and/or other people who need to know so they can support you.

●      Is this stressful moment worth the cortisol? Stressful moments are bound to happen in this industry and some of them are really important for your growth. I tell people to figure out if this stressful moment is a growth opportunity or is it something that I feel obligated to do for someone else but not something that really matters or impacts me. Assess the stress. 

●      What is your relationship with substances, specifically alcohol and caffeine? Check in with yourself regularly and ask yourself how you’re feeling about substances you use. Is this something that I’m relying on or just enjoying right now? How is it making me feel when I partake?

●      What are your personal signs of burnout? Going back to boundaries, it’s important to see the lead up and recognize the signs before you actually reach burnout. This is also where keeping an ongoing conversation with your manager, boss and team can really help. Communicate with them, let them know, ‘I think I’m heading into burnout, what can we do to give me a break?’

●      What is enough for you? For some people they want to be a CCO, CSO or a VP. Others want to just be the best writer they can be. Same with money. Get very honest with yourself when you think about what is enough in terms of salary and compensation for you. Does the amount of work you are putting in and the time you are spending on work balance what you’re getting out of it?


This month, Publicis Groupe’s Conscious Mind will be taking a dive into different aspects of mental health awareness. Each week, the ERG will be tackling a challenge that helps us move toward greater awareness. Follow along on their Instagram.

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