I’ve Been There – Mental Health Awareness Week

Last night, Francis Ingham, DG of the PRCA hosted a #PRCAChat about Mental Health Awareness Week on Twitter. A great forum, interesting exchanges demonstrating positive momentum. Today the PRCA will release some research in this area which I eagerly await, along with details of a valuable toolkit they are developing to better equip members in the area of mental wellness. Golin is honoured to have been included in some of their planning discussions.

Now I regularly climb on my soap box to bark about the importance of attentive line management in a people-oriented industry like ours so recent data that shows those struggling with mental health issues are reluctant to talk to line managers, is particularly worrisome. On the plus side, there is a clear sea change of public acceptance that mental health issues are widespread and not to be ashamed of. However, there is still a huge way to go and in a sector frequently appearing high on ‘most stressful’ job top 10s, we employers and managers have a huge responsibility to do much better. I am therefore excited about a new training programme we have embarked on to give line managers the tools to recognise the signs, to open dialogue and to know what steps to take.

Having been in communications for 17 years now, I know very well what an incredibly stressful, fast-paced and demanding environment it is. I recall very clearly an exceptionally challenging period in my personal life when I was exposed at close range to depression, a relationship break-down and a particularly shocking death in my family. The thing that stuck with me, was the unfettered compassion of my bosses at the time and the stark honesty from one individual who took me aside and shared personal experience of mental illness. It made an immeasurable difference to my situation and speaks to the strength of a culture that has kept me in one place for nearly 14 years.

I therefore believe one of the most powerful tools available to fight mental illness in communications, is for brave individuals to share their own stories, to humanise what, let’s face it, most of us will be touched by at least once in our lives. If the pace and pressures of the job itself are not the main catalyst, then life itself is certain to throw a good number of curved balls at you over the years. So if it helps someone to know that there have been times in my career when I’ve literally felt strangled by stress or when a year after my father died as an SAE that I regularly cried uncontrollably and stopped eating at work to try and regain control of some part of my life, then I am happy to share. During that time ten years ago when my Golin bosses showed such candour and support, it made a real impact. Every one of your bosses or peers or even clients are human believe it or not and some of them might just be bold enough to prove it by sharing some of their own struggles.

Yes there’s a long road to travel on mental health but at least the industry and society at large are facing North now. I think treating mental health or mental wellness as a marathon not a sprint, to devote the same energy to keeping mentally healthy as physically so, is vitally important. A year ago, we launched a benefits package – which grabbed attention with unlimited paid leave- but essentially which put the employee in the driving seat and sent a message of trust and empowerment over how you manage your work/life balance. This is now being expanded with a renewed focus on mental wellness, on long-term welfare, building resilience and happiness and a real tangible support for line managers. I am hopeful that our agency and our industry will have made real progress by the time another anniversary rolls by.