Employers, managers, colleagues. What would you do if noticed someone on your team who was previously sparky, chatty and produced great results was acting differently? What if they were making mistakes, talking less and not getting through their work? What if they were phoning in sick more, putting the team under pressure?
This is probably what colleagues noticed about me many years ago. What they won’t have known was what was going on inside me; A feeling of constant dread, debilitating fatigue which made me feel like a zombie, not being able to ‘enjoy’ anything, a voice in my head constantly saying ‘why can’t you do this? Everyone else thinks you’re rubbish’. The little voice was proved right when I was given a verbal warning and told that if my performance didn’t improve, I could lose my job.
I had absolutely no idea what was going on and why I was feeling like this. Fortunately, I had (and still have) an amazing support network. My family took me to the doctors where I was eventually given the diagnosis of depression. Finally having a label for what I was experiencing was a massive relief, as was being able to share this with my employer. From there, the response completely changed and whilst I think they were quite thrown by it, they offered me lots of support, encouraged me to take the time I needed for appointments and recovery and were genuinely open for me to talk about it any time. This was quite some years ago and I still remember it all being ‘hush hush’. I would never have dreamed of telling all my colleagues.
Fast forward to today and I talk about my experiences of mental ill health as much as possible. We still have a way to go but I’m heartened to see mental health becoming something we all discuss much more openly. And we are all becoming more aware of looking out for our own and others’ wellbeing.
What I am disheartened about is that I am still hearing from PR friends and peers who are suffering with their mental health and not getting the support they need and deserve. I will be very interested to read the results of this year’s PRCA Mental Wellbeing Survey to see if the situation is improving.
Whilst I can see PR agencies and in-house teams introducing some genuinely great initiatives to improve wellbeing and understanding - training people as mental health first aiders, encouraging a much more open discussion, introducing a formal mental health policy etc. I believe that in some cases there is not enough being done to prevent issues like anxiety, depression and burnout in the PR industry.
It’s all very well investing in these initiatives, but if people still have an unrealistic amount of work to complete each day/ week, are still expected to respond to work emails at all hours and on days off, if there are no contingency plans for when people go on leave, if companies are still saying yes to clients before checking if there is capacity to deliver within the team etc., then it is inevitable that people are going to burn out and ultimately it is the business that suffers.
Due to my own experiences and those of so many of my friends and colleagues, this is a topic I am extremely passionate about. It is complex and difficult to boil down into a blog post, but in essence I really believe the PR industry can do better and that everyone - PRs, clients and business owners - stands to benefit. A great starting point is to look at the PRCA’s Mental Health Toolkit which contains some fantastic resources, case studies and advice. It’s also a live page so we can all contribute to making the PR industry a trailblazer for healthy working.
If anything I have written about resonates with you, then please know that you are not alone. Telling someone about it can be very daunting but there is help and support available for you.