You may be seeing scores of social media posts and news stories about mental health—in the public relations and communications industry, in the journalism industry, in general, and especially in the workplace.
It seems I have noticed more of those kinds of stories lately, primarily related to the pandemic and lockdowns, but most recently because Saturday, October 10, was World Mental Health Day. The theme this year was supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
According to our partner, Talkwalker, the day sparked significant conversations on social media. In an email newsletter, they shared, “This year, we saw nearly a million mentions on the day of the event, and 1.5 million mentions that week. 46% of all mentions were positive. The conversations included public figures as well as brands doing their bit to spread awareness.”
Mental health and COVID-19
This year’s World Mental Health Day (WMHD) came when our day-to-day lives have drastically changed as a consequence of the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) states on their website that “fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when we are faced with uncertainty or the unknown. So it is normal and understandable that people are experiencing fear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
WHO expects the need for mental health support to substantially increase moving forward. Ahead of this year’s WMHD, they stated, “the economic consequences of the pandemic are already being felt, as companies let staff go in an effort to save their businesses, or indeed shut down completely.” And, whether it’s you or your colleagues, friends or family, we’ve all witnessed just that.
This may be starting to sound like a gloom and doom story, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Mental health and the communications industry
Many of us in communications, public relations, marketing, and advertising are fortunate enough to work remotely and carry on. Some are considered essential workers as spokespersons—feverishly working toward crisis management and reassuring stakeholders. While others have experienced first-hand the hardship of furloughs, layoffs, even pay cuts. The one common thread is that it’s all stressful and arduous.
In this industry, under ‘normal’ circumstances, we are masters at juggling priorities and performing in stressful situations, but this year is different. It’s as though we are in constant fight-or-flight mode. The human body simply isn’t designed to maintain this mode constantly, and it takes its toll on physical health.
With long-term stress (like we’re all experiencing now), the National Institute of Health says, “Because the source of long-term stress is more constant than acute stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning. With chronic stress, those same life-saving reactions in the body can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.” Left unfettered and untreated long enough, it can even lead to serious issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and Opinium released their second annual report ‘Continuing the Conversation: Mental Wellbeing in Public Relations.’ The study shows progress is being made on the taboo or stigma of talking about mental health in the workplace.
Understandably, not all the responses were positive; however, some of the positive findings are:
- 72% of PR professionals who took time off work for their mental health were honest with their employer about their reasons for taking leave, compared to 40% last year, signifying PR practitioners feel more confident talking about mental health at work
- The number of PR professionals who said they don’t know how to approach the topic (if they’re struggling at work) decreased from last year by 4%.
- Those who did speak up said they “felt heard and were offered support initiatives, time off and reduced workloads.” This is highly encouraging!
- Attitudes seem to be shifting as the number of those who felt their mental health wasn’t a valid reason to take time off decreased to 23%, from 33% last year.
- There has been an increase in initiatives offered in workplaces, and the benefits are clear — 68% of workplaces offer remote working, 51% provide information about mental health and techniques to support mental health (up from 36% last year) and 47% offer mental health first aid (vs. 27% last year).
Although the pandemic likely thrusted these conversations to the forefront, the fact that there’s been so much improvement (especially in an area where every conversation is a difficult one) in a single year is highly encouraging.
The report offers recommendations to employers, including:
- Introduce initiatives that positively impact mental wellbeing.
- Ensure that employees understand how to access initiatives and promote the usage of them. Giving reassurance to employees about it will boost usage and ultimately boost employee mental wellbeing.
- Listen to employees when it comes to the wellbeing initiatives that will be most useful to them. Hearing this feedback directly from employees will enable employers to identify new initiatives to boost employee mental wellbeing.
There are many more insights in the PRCA Opinium Continuing the Conversation: Mental Wellbeing in Public Relations report, and I would encourage you to peruse it for yourself.
Does your organization offer an Employee Assistance Program for mental health or some form of mental health benefits? How are you prioritizing employees’ mental wellbeing?
Additional Resources for Communicators:
- PRCA launched the Global COVID-19 Communications Taskforce and offers replays of recent webinars including some focusing on the PR industry’s mental wellbeing.
- The Institute for PR also offers COVID-19 resources and more specifically on mental health.
- PRSA has a COVID-19 communications resources Note: some of the materials are available to the public and some are only available to members.
- CIPR also has a mental health resources page for organizations as well as individuals—including findings of a recent survey exploring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on communications professionals.