It was only at university that I became aware of the scale of the nation’s mental health crisis. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under 35, with on average 126 suicides a week, yet I had no idea.
Mental health was never discussed at school or college. However, whilst living in close quarters with my peers for the first time I noticed how life’s challenges can affect people differently.
The support provided at university was fantastic: it included free counselling sessions and a wellbeing officer who had a strong on-campus presence. I myself made use of these services following the loss of a friend and am eternally grateful for the difference they made. For some of my peers however, these support services were not enough.
Many people left university early as a result, and it is a trend that becomes more noticeable as you enter adult life and the workplace.
Communications can be a high-pressured industry, and like any profession it can present challenges. It is important that everyone has access to the support services they require and feels able to discuss their mental health with both their employers and employees.
I was encouraged to see that the PRCA and PRWeek launched a joint survey to look into attitudes towards mental health in the PR and comms industry. This will not only help destigmatise mental health, but will lead to practical recommendations that can be adopted by professionals throughout the industry.
Other initiatives have also been launched, including Nikki da Costa’s mental health initiative and fund which will allow practitioners under the age of 35 to receive help accessing mental health support.
I strongly endorse such initiatives and implore my peers to lend their support accordingly. However, the problems I encountered at university and those that exist throughout the communications industry have a common denominator: people suffering from mental health problems often only seek help once their mental health reaches breaking point.
This is certainly true for Adam Shaw, co-founder of the global mental health charity, The Shaw Mind Foundation. Adam battled with obsessive compulsive disorder from the age of five and only realised help was necessary once he was on the brink of suicide.
I first met Adam in April 2017 to discuss his HeaducationUK campaign, which is calling for compulsory mental health education in schools. Through our discussions, I became convinced of the need for young people to be taught about mental health in school. The current system, which only provides support once the problem has become unmanageable, is not working.
I am therefore proud to have supported the HeaducationUK campaign and am delighted its government petition reached 100,000 signatures ahead of the deadline. Partly in response to this political pressure, Theresa May has now committed to rolling out mental health support to every school in the country, and this is a welcome first step.
It is increasingly accepted that mental health deserves parity of esteem with physical health, but this also needs to be applied to the education system. Only then will the communications industry be in a position where young employees are better prepared for the challenges it can throw at you, and ensure mental illness in the industry does not go unnoticed.