– An important new Twitter Chat – Mental health in comms #MHinComms –

Survey after survey from our industry shows the rise in mental ill health. The results also clearly highlight that not enough is being done to provide support. So, an important new Twitter Chat aims to provide more spotlight of the issues and the help and advice available.

by Leanne Ehren

How are you today? No, really, I mean how are you really doing today?

I’m not asking if you’re hungry or tired (although these are both important), I want to know how your mind is doing. When was the last time you checked in with yourself or anyone else to explore your mental health?

So often people walk in to work and comment; “hi, how’s you?” without waiting for the answer. A coach once suggested to me that I not ask people how they are if I didn’t have the time to receive and respond to the answer. I also now take that one step further and when someone asks me how I am, I make sure my response is as honest as I am willing to be on that day.

The thing is, if you see someone hobbling up the stairs with an injured leg, you may find yourself asking if that person is OK, do they need any help, or querying what happened. But when it comes to mental health, it’s invisible. So, when someone at work asks if I’m OK and I give them a response about how my mental health is doing, it shocks them. Leaves them mumbling a response and often, swiftly walking off in the other direction.

Especially because in comms, we’re the happy people; the can-do team; the fixers that are always there, continuously reliable. I’ll let you into a little secret; I know this isn’t really the case. We’re human, like everyone else, and we have mental health that needs taking care of, just like everyone else.

But in comms, we face so many challenges that scrutinise and test our mental health in unique ways. So how do you manage maintaining your mental health whilst thriving in an environment that always feels like it’s in the spotlight, is always switched-on (or expected to be) and is unquestionably high-pressured? I’ve teamed up with Comms Unplugged – a not-for-profit retreat for comms people away from all the tech and stress that distracts us usually – this Mental Health Awareness Week to pose this question among others as part of a Twitter chat so you can share your experiences.

The evidence is crystal clear. In January (2019), the PRCA and PRWeek revealed 60 per cent of the PR and communications industry have suffered from or been diagnosed with mental ill health, and the CIPR State of the Profession 2019 results point to a profession which is not only stressful to work in but fails to provide support to those living with a mental health condition. The data also suggests public relations plays an active role in damaging the mental health of practitioners.

The top causes of workplace stress for comms people are cited this year in CIPR’s report as heavy and unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines or expectations from colleagues and our “always on” culture. What factors at work contribute negatively to your mental health?

Furthermore, 50 per cent of respondents to PRCA’s survey said they felt under more stress currently compared to 12 months ago. We have a situation on our hands I feel, so what can the industry do to conquer these challenges and start looking after the mental health of its practitioners better?

Worryingly nearly two-thirds of you who completed this report rated the stressfulness of your job at 7 out of 10 or above. You’re stressed, it’s a fact. I tried living with a stress condition without support and without putting in management mechanisms. Guess what? I failed! However, now that I have some simple tools it means that a lot of the time I can bring a score of 9 out of 10, right down to 3 out of 10. When you’re faced with a stressful client or a campaign that is starting to impact your wellbeing, what do you do?

It’s not just workplace stress that we need to address. Most respondents to PRCA’s survey who have suffered from mental ill health cite depression or anxiety as the issue. We’re not experts in this field but many of us may have worked with people who are living with these mental health challenges. I know I have, and as a leader, I feel I have not only a welfare responsibility for my team’s mental health and wellbeing, but also to be a role model by opening up the conversation about mental health to smash the stigma.

What do you do to support your colleagues? Everyone manages things in different ways and there is no one size fits all winning formula. What works for me, may not work for the next person but if we make it easier to talk about mental health in the workplace and in our industry, then I believe we can make a real difference.

Throughout this blog I’ve posed questions to you about mental health, so now it’s your time to have a voice and share your responses and tips.

Join us 8-9pm on Tuesday, May 14, for our twitter chat #MHinComms

Leanne Ehren is a communications and engagement specialist and you’ll find her on Twitter at @LeanneEhren