Unless you live under a rock, you’ll be aware that this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Put it this way, I hope you’re aware that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
#MHAW17 is seven days when we’re encouraged to think about the mental well-being of not just ourselves but of those around us. A few days ago I heard from Nick Woods, co-founder of communications agency Well Hello, which has become (I believe) the first UK PR agency to become an official supporter of Heads Together, the mental health awareness initiative being led by HRHs William, Kate & Harry.
As someone who tweets, speaks and writes about mental well-being in the communications industry on a regular basis, this is something I wholeheartedly applaud. There are several vocal individuals who speak up about the issue, notably Chris Owen, Stephen Waddington and Sarah Hall. And industry bodies have now come around to getting behind campaigns to tackle it. But though conversation has grown considerably over the last year and that is to be applauded, change is a slow process.
Well Hello is a fantastic example of a PR agency actively nailing its colours to the mast; saying ‘enough is enough’ and we’re going to try and do something about it within our own organisation. I’d love to see more agencies being proactive and taking mental well-being more seriously within their own organisations. I was keen to hear more from Well Hello on the issue so I grabbed Nick for a chat…
What does becoming an official supporter of Heads Together mean?
Signing-up means we commit to helping change the conversation around mental health in three ways:
- Role modelling good conversations on mental health
- Sharing Heads Together films, messages and other materials through our social media and directly among our team
- Encouraging conversations on mental health in Well Hello and with clients, suppliers, friends and everyone else we touch
How do you foresee the last of those three working?
It’s pretty straightforward within the agency due to our size, but as we grow we’ll likely try to find ways to formalise it in some way. We’ll also ensure it’s something we refer to regularly through our social activity.
Why Heads Together specifically (over Mind or other mental health charities)?
HRHs William, Kate & Harry’s involvement is game-changing for mental health in the UK. Everyone in the UK instinctively understands part of who they are is a direct result of what happened to their mum, and they are visceral examples of not just that ‘this can happen to anyone’, but also that it’s not easy for anyone and that it is entirely overcome-able.
Mental health in the communications industry has been getting lots of talk over the last year. But what has led to Well Hello getting more involved now?
We wanted to do something proactive. Our whole proposition is based around one word: goodness. We choose only to work with brands which help people look, feel and/or do good.
For a long time we leaned into physical health and well-being, but a number of us have been, or have someone close who has been touched by some form of mental health challenge and we realised that we were being too narrow. Goodness is mental, physical, spiritual etc.
Do you believe that PR as an industry has a major problem to face up to?
The world is clearly changing and affecting the mental health of broad swathes of the population in ways we’ve not seen before. And when we look at the demographic make-up of big chunks of our industry, and consider the anecdotal evidence coming out of all sorts of agency sizes and types, it seems reasonable to assume that (a significant proportion of) our talent is/will be affected.
Where do you think the problem lies?
Mental health is a society-wide issue. There are all sorts of macro factors contributing when considered at that level, while each individual case will seem hyper-personalised.
The broad problems include years of not recognising or belittling issues, lack of joined-up understanding or strategy, it being an ever-increasing wave, chronic underfunding and training of professionals and disagreement between mental health communities and GPs on best ways forwards for individuals.
Have you ever either experienced or witnessed poor recognition or treatment of stress, anxiety or depression in agencies you’ve worked in down the years?
In a word, yes. In one agency the HR team was led by a fairly unsympathetic character, and in another there was a clear divide between talk (allegedly supportive) and action (meh). But I think it’s probably fair to say that many agencies are still behind the curve in their knowledge of how to help team members and there is too much “oh, pull your socks up!” rather than genuine understanding at the top of organisations (I suspect).
I also think it’s really important to define some differences; stress, anxiety and depression are not the same things, one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other etc. Acute stress can be helpful in a lot of circumstances, and we sometimes rename it as adrenaline, but when it becomes chronic, unrecognised and/or unmanaged, agency talent will often benefit from having an employer who is understanding, empathetic, can provide guidance and counsel.
What would you like to see changing in the industry over the next year or two?
At least an acceleration of some of the things already underway.
The PRCA’s PR Council is already working out how best they can help agency leadership teams recognise and solve, how training can be improved and cultures adapted, among other things. Some individual agencies are doing their bit and there are a few notable, eloquent individuals (you and Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington spring to mind) speaking out too.
You mentioned culture here, which I believe is or has been one of the major problems in the industry. What do you think a healthy company culture for mental well-being looks like?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to this I’m afraid; just as every agency’s culture may have different shapes and flavours, so t0o must their approach to mental well-being. At Well Hello our most important cultural phrase is ‘be nice, work hard’ so we’re trying to build an agency which has support, empathy and genuine teamwork baked in from the beginning, alongside pace, energy, ambition and drive.
The challenge is creating a set of values which can be applied consistently across levels, job functions, personality types etc.
I’m speaking at #PRFest in June about how to tackle the mental well-being issue head on and why, with such a strong business case, you should not delay in doing so.
You can also read a post by myself published this week by the PRCA about the issue.
Disclosure: Well Hello is a current client.