Honest talk and lots of listening builds the boundaries for better mental health

Many people within the agency and marketing sectors are facing a tough time due to the ongoing pandemic. To provide support, the ICA is interviewing a range of people at all levels within the industry who have overcome mental health challenges and built resiliency. The series is intended to remove the stigma around mental health where it exists, and to provide help where it’s needed through relatable stories and strategies. Here Jordan Friesen, Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy, talks to Rachel Hlinko, Director, Integrated Media Strategy at Weber Shandwick, about her approach to building resiliency in the wake of poor mental health and hears her advice for leaders looking to create a more supportive environment for their people.

Rachel Hlinko holds a senior role developing strategy plans and building the media profiles of her clients at Weber Shandwick Canada. To reach this point she’s faced her own depression, mental health issues running deep throughout her family, and a series of traumatic experiences including the loss of a baby.

But she’s become a huge advocate of speaking about her personal feelings and talking openly about the mental health issues she’s experienced. This approach forms part of a resiliency strategy based around the fundamentals of building and respecting boundaries, reaching self-awareness, and growing a healthy support network around her.

The idea of establishing boundaries came from Hlinko’s first boss, the owner of a coffee shop where she worked as a teenager. Alongside Hlinko’s then step-mother and her sister, this mentor formed a vital early support network: “They taught me the importance of establishing boundaries and identifying what I needed to know about what I could take on, and what I couldn’t and how mental health has both a mental and physical impact on you.’”

Hlinko says that self-awareness is important in terms of understanding emotional triggers, situations or responses from others that can put us in a negative emotional state and contribute to the development of depression or anxiety: “The more you become self-aware the healthier you will become and the easier it will become to navigate. As I’ve grown up and had more experiences it’s been easier to know what my triggers are and what the outcome could possibly be.”

Quote: Mental health is more than just navigating traumatic situations…it’s knowing how much you can take and having conversations to establish a threshold.

Once you understand your own triggers, you are then able to put appropriate boundaries in place to either prevent those situations or minimize their impact. She adds: “My boundaries started with four walls and then turned into something more elaborate based on my lived experiences. Now in my 30s I feel I can have conversations with people that are really hard – to tell them what I need or don’t need, or when I need them, because I started with this when I was so young, and I welcome them having that conversation with me because they need to respect their boundaries as well.”

Hlinko says that this approach, alongside a tailored treatment plan, has helped her move towards better mental health: “Mental health is more than just navigating traumatic situations. You can experience smaller situations like negative feedback that can compound. So, it’s knowing how much you can take and having conversations to establish a threshold.”

In practical terms, what has helped Hlinko become more self-aware? Is it down to good practices, relationships, people or therapy? “For me, it’s people. One is having people you feel comfortable with being open to your vulnerability. Then, two, having people who don’t know you at all and you can go to and have those unbiased conversations. Having that third party, who I don’t know but will listen, is important because they remove the relationship value.”

Hlinko emphasises the importance of having different people around her for support – “it can’t just be family and friends and it for sure can’t be one person.” Which leads to her third resiliency strategy – a network of support. Something that will resonate with many people in the workplace right now due to the pandemic and associated pressures. Hlinko urges young people in the industry to seek out like-minded individuals: “You need to find your team, your people. You don’t have to open up to someone about all your personal experiences but you need to find a level of comfort with the team because a client can be really mean, a member of the media can be really mean, but if you come back to the team, the core group, and say ‘this happened’ and the response you get is ‘that sucks’, that means something. But if you come back to the team and they say ‘did you do that? did you do this?’ and all of a sudden, it’s your fault because somebody was rude to you then that’s not a healthy dynamic. I stayed for a long time at those agencies I’ve had that support with, and I have travelled with those people because I know I have that safe spot with them.”

Quote: There was a period where I felt my voice didn't help the situation and listening was really key.

Being aware of external influences or societal context can also help you to be more intelligent about respecting others’ boundaries. Hlinko says that following a difficult year characterised not only by the pandemic but also the turbulence around anti-racism movements, attempts by employers and leaders to build empathy among people in the workplace can only be a positive thing. Weber Shandwick, for instance, ran a series of “listening sessions” in order for people to better understand others: “There was a period where I felt my voice didn’t help the situation and listening was really key. The listening sessions helped me understand what allyship looks like and I don’t think I’d have transitioned from just listening to listening and speaking without that deeper context of people telling stories to say ‘please do this, this is how we’re feeling, this is how you could do things differently.’”

Finally, does she have advice for other leaders within the agency world to play a more active role in supporting mental health and resilience? “Be an active listener, understand the role you play for junior people – as a senior person, you are innately hard to approach despite seeming approachable. And then be the person advocating for resources. You’re the person that can create the change be it big or small.”


Jordan Friesen is a registered Occupational Therapist and Principal Consultant at Mindset Mental Health Strategy. He uses his skills as a consultant to assist organizations who want to take progressive action to support the mental health of their workforce as a competitive advantage and business imperative for the future of work.

Weber Shandwick is a member of the Institute of Communication Agencies. Report on Marketing is where leading Canadian agencies showcase their insights, cutting-edge research and client successes. The Report on Marketing provides a valuable source of thought leadership for Canadian marketers to draw inspiration from. Find more articles like this at the Report on Marketing.

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