A few weeks ago I launched two new training and consultancy services to assist communications teams with implementing a best practice approach to mental health. Since then I’ve heard from numerous PR and communications professionals about their own personal experiences and, unfortunately, it’s been overwhelmingly negative. Interestingly, I’ve not heard from a single employer as yet, but that’s another post for another time.
Some of the stories I’ve heard have been disappointing; some have been downright shocking.
With this in mind, I asked some of those individuals if they’d mind me telling their stories to you. Some declined, which maybe says something in itself. But a few have given me their permission, and for that I’m hugely grateful. If you’re one of them, thank you.
I have changed or removed some details in the following stories to preserve people’s anonymity.
“I was diagnosed with PTSD and depression after the collapse of my marriage. The lack of compassion from my agency drove me deeper and deeper down until eventually I had to leave and take a year out from the industry to get over it.
I was subjected to performance reviews, weekly mentoring sessions with the boss and, after a few months, told that it had “been long enough now” and that I needed to get better. The pressure in that agency drove me to the brink. I was in the depths of darkness and fear and couldn’t defend myself. Education and compassion are needed.”
“When I was trying to do well in my career and seem strong, the last thing I wanted people to know was that I was having [mental health] issues. Trying to explain to my employer that I couldn’t drive to places without telling them I get panic attacks and anxiety was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
If you have mental health issues it doesn’t mean you’re not strong, that you’re not good at your job or that you’re not a good employee. In fact, it means you deal with more than most as you have to find solutions to cope with stuff that others don’t.”
“I’m bipolar. I told my employer I was on medication triggered by a death in the family, separation from my wife and family, and the collapse of a business. I felt it was my duty in case my mood was affected and they started to wonder what was up. I was being responsible.
Within six months they’d removed half my team and accounts, and a couple of months after that I was given the “you don’t seem to be happy here, maybe you should leave” chat. It made me extremely cautious about talking openly about [mental health] in professional circles again”.
“The main experience I’ve had is not being able to have a bad or quiet day without repercussions. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few years ago, and everyone thinks I’m in a bad mood or being rude or have an attitude when I’m just trying to deal with my day.
The stigma is that you can’t handle the illness or cope with the pressure. But that’s not the case. You’re not ill because of work, but the stress [of the workplace] doesn’t help.”
“Agencies have a terrible reputation for managing stress poorly, but in-house is just as bad as agency life. When the work is piled on you can feel powerless as there’s no capacity planning and no budgeting for a person’s time, so often work isn’t adequately resourced. More assumptions are made and there’s less team spirit, so you’re just expected to get on with it.
A few years ago I had an awful experience. I tried to escalate the struggles I was facing to manage a highly volatile project, but I eventually cracked. I went to the doctor, broke down and cried for ten minutes, and was signed off for a couple of weeks. I was terrified.
Someone else was forced to step in and take on a couple of my projects, but it was made clear to me that this was a temporary measure. When I returned I had my original workload dumped back onto me. I was channelled through the right systems, but it was very clear that nothing was necessarily going to change.
Mental health issues are still seen as a sign of weakness and we don’t want the cracks to show. We want to appear faultless and we’re concerned any weakness will damage our credibility.
Mental health problems mess with our planning, our projects and our clients, so we just pretend it’s not happening. The financial good of the company comes first.
I hope I don’t crash like that again. I feel it would be almost impossible to recover from a career point of view.
I know there are very few line managers or senior managers who would ever wish to make someone feel like that, but the fact is, that is sort of how you feel. We need coaching, mentoring or training to overcome this.”
For more advice on best practice mental health provision, increasing the mental well-being of your staff, enhancing their understanding of stress, anxiety and depression, or investing in training for your managers, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I run modular courses on mental well-being for communications teams of all sizes, from simple talks and training sessions to full corporate assessments.