Mental health and PR – have you thought about it?
In 2004 I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I’d switched jobs the year before and things had started out very well. But I was going through a separation and then divorce from my (now ex-) wife and, over the course of many months, things started to get on top of me.
I was very open with my employer about my home life and, initially, they were supportive. But as the depression took greater hold my professional performance started to suffer and the day before the first anniversary of my joining the agency (and so having rights under employment law) I was fired without so much as a warning. I’m still not quite sure why.
This was my first brush with how the public relations industry deals with depression. And the treatment I received left a scar that still exists to this day. I set up as an independent digital media consultant two and a half years ago, but in the ten years between being canned from that agency and becoming self-employed I never once spoke of my ongoing experiences of mental ill health with anyone in the workplace.
Talking about mental health in PR
In the summer of 2014, I wrote a blog post about storytelling in which I ‘came out’ about my experiences with depression. I was still in paid employment at that time, but was already putting plans in place to set up independently, so the fact that my boss might read it was neither here nor there.
That blog post was an eye opener. I started getting private messages, some from people I knew and some from people I didn’t, about how others had or did suffer from stress or anxiety or depression. And it became very apparent very quickly that the incidence of poor mental well-being in the public relations industry is extremely high.
Over the last three years I’ve become more vocal about the issue. I’ve spoken about it at the PRCA and CIPR, I contributed a chapter to the second edition of the #FuturePRoof book and I’ve tried to be active in offering advice both to individuals and to agencies on how to handle mental well-being in the workplace.
The cost of mental health in PR
The business case for paying attention to the issue is huge. The OECD states that mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion per year, and the financial cost of lost productivity among PR agencies due to stress, anxiety and depression is massive.
A PRCA report issued just a couple of weeks ago showed that 59% of 227 respondents to a survey said they had suffered from some form of mental ill health. Furthermore, 54% said they would feel ‘not very comfortable’ or ‘very uncomfortable’ talking to their line manager about it.
Something needs to change. We have to destroy the stigma that makes people feel weak if they’re stressed or depressed and that prevents people from talking about mental well-being. We have to start tackling it in a proactive and effective manner.
Mental health in PR at #PRFest
In my session at #PRFest I’ll be telling you more about my experiences, more about the business case for tackling mental well-being, how to spot someone who is suffering, and exactly what you can do to help both them and your company.
Blog post by independent digital consultant Paul Sutton.