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PRCA mental and physical health campaign

What do former Government press secretary Alastair Campbell, ex-boxer Frank Bruno and Premier League footballer Aaron Lennon have in common? Rather sadly, they have all suffered from depression.

When Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act last week for his own safety after a “stress-related illness”, there was an outpouring of sympathy and support on social media. And rightly so. Lennon was a hugely popular player during ten years at my Club, Tottenham Hotspur, and is at his current Club Everton. It’s sad to see someone with so much talent succumbing to the pressures of life.

But Lennon, former WBC heavyweight champion Bruno and author/broadcaster Campbell are far from alone in that respect. The Mental Health Foundation reports that one in six adults have a common mental health problem every single week. In the PR industry, one in three consultants admit to having suffered from some form of mental ill health.

Public relations is regularly listed as one the most stressful careers that a person can have, ranking right up there with firefighters, police officers and nurses. A lot of that is down to the culture within the industry, where the job comes first. 

PR people are encouraged to be always on and to say ‘yes’ to every single client demand no matter how unreasonable those demands may be. As a direct result, stress, anxiety and depression are commonplace and, almost, accepted. Poor mental well-being causes a lack of motivation and low productivity, which is then often handled as a performance issue. It’s nonsensical.

So what can we do about it?

The first thing is to recognise that you have a problem in your company. No-one is immune, no matter how welcoming and friendly your culture. A study by MIND revealed that less than half of those diagnosed with a mental illness had disclosed it to their employer and that one in five people felt they couldn’t tell their boss.

So encourage those in your organisation to talk. Empower them. Stress and depression are no more signs of weakness than a broken leg. This means creating a truly open culture and making people feel secure that talking about their mental health will not damage their credibility and career prospects.

Alongside that, there are things you can do to help those suffering at any particular moment. When you’re in a poor mental state, work is very, very tough. And I speak from over a decade of personal experience.

Motivation plummets. Attention to detail falters and silly mistakes creep in. You can become absent-minded. It takes you three times as long to do anything. You can’t deal with criticism and demands on your time at all well. You don’t want to be around your colleagues. In short, it’s disabling.

But simple things like late starts or early finishes, flexible working hours and working from home really do help when you find it difficult to function to your normal level. And what about things like actively promoting sensible working hours and banning out of hours emails? Being ‘always-on’ and even just having ‘assumed availability’ is enough to create constant stress.

Think about the trigger points in your company and do something to address them.

The business case for tackling the mental well-being of your employees is massive. The OECD states that mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion per year, and the cost of presenteeism is double that of absenteeism according to the CIPD. 

The financial cost of lost productivity due to stress, anxiety and depression is huge. The personal cost to your employees even more so. Resolve to doing something about it.