Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (8 – 14 May), the PRCA and PRWeek have launched a joint survey examining attitudes towards mental health in the PR industry – and I’d like to encourage everyone to take part.
The short survey is comprised of ten questions seeking to explore the prevalence of mental health problems in the profession, how these are perceived within the workplace and the level of support available. It follows on from some excellent work on this subject of late which has helped raise awareness of what remains a widespread issue within the industry.
Earlier this year a #FuturePRoof report, published by the PRCA, revealed that mental illnesses were largely ignored within the profession or dismissed as a performance issue. Of the 120 practitioners who took part in the project, more than half said they wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their colleagues or line manager – and it’s costing the industry. An OECD study from 2014 showed that failure to properly tackle mental health problems in the workplace is costing the UK economy £70bn a year.
The #FuturePRoof project also explored the underlying factors behind mental health problems in the workplace. Repeat offenders included poor management, financial burden, office politics, long hours and perhaps, most notably, a culture of being ‘always on’ – with social media increasingly blurring the lines between practitioners’ work and home lives.
When these pressures build it’s important to know what help is available, yet the #FuturePRoof project highlights the confusion surrounding work sickness policy and mental illnesses, with the majority of participants largely unaware of the support on offer.
The most startling aspect was the revelation that during the development of the #FuturePRoof paper, a PR professional had gotten in touch to share an employment contract referring to mental illness as grounds for dismissal. Something, as the report points out, is very much illegal.
Not unethical. Not ignorant. Illegal.
This may be the problem at its nth degree but it’s an important reminder of the PR industry’s generally unsympathetic attitude towards mental health. It’s all too easy to dismiss the frustrations of a colleague as nothing more than someone having a bad day at the office or put their absentmindedness down to having too much on their plate. But the truth is, it’s never that simple.
That’s why it’s important we as practitioners ask ourselves what we can do to help foster a more a progressive approach. Of course, there’s no quick fix. Not only do we need to be sensitive to the pressures of a fast-paced, mile-a-minute industry on the people around us, but also respect whatever steps an individual may take to alleviate these pressures. We certainly shouldn’t question someone for taking a leave of absence on the grounds of mental health nor should we challenge their reasoning.
It’s not just about encouraging people to feel comfortable talking about mental illnesses, although this is a fundamental step and a willingness to listen can go a long way. It’s about proactively addressing workload pressures, decreased morale and low levels of engagement within the workplace. Both bottom up and top down.
I’d personally like to see mental health awareness as a compulsory topic on the agenda for both staff inductions and new manager training courses. In spite of the excellent work of mental health charities, one of the biggest obstacles to change is that mental illnesses still aren’t put on the same footing as physical health problems. This is largely down to a lack of understanding in terms of exactly what mental illnesses are, the different types of mental health problems and how to recognise the warning signs.
So if you do one thing this bank holiday weekend, please answer the survey before the deadline on Thursday 04 May, share it with fellow practitioners and get people talking about mental health. All responses are anonymous and the results will be published during Mental Health Week.
The survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/TVTS2D5
As you know, I always encourage feedback on my blog posts but I’d particularly like to get people’s thoughts on this topic. If you would like to share your views on anything mentioned in this article, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via social media. Part of me was reluctant to write this post because it’s easy to feel unqualified when discussing such an important issue. But, in some way or another, mental health affects us all and the views presented here are not set in stone. Whether you’ve experienced mental health problems yourself or supported a friend or family member with a mental illness, we shouldn’t be afraid to start a dialogue.