World Mental Health Day: Why PR pros could benefit from counselling

In years gone by, outsiders could be forgiven for thinking that the PR industry was all about long lunches and glamorous parties.

It is short-sighted not to make the mental health of staff a priority, argues Eileen Wise
It is short-sighted not to make the mental health of staff a priority, argues Eileen Wise

That may have been the case for a small, vocal minority but most PR professionals simply got on with their important work, often away from the limelight.

Today it is entirely a different story.

PR is a key part of corporate strategy with publicly quoted companies employing PR professionals at director level or on the board.

They operate in a 24/7 media where success and its opposite are both easily measured.

Failure to get coverage, turn a bad story around or make the most of the good one can be scored in hits, clips and the number of soundbites by clients and competitors.

In this fishbowl world, the metrics of success can take a heavy toll.

I know this all too well, having worked for over three decades in senior PR roles, mostly for media companies.

It was a rewarding career and I loved it, but a few years ago I left London and PR to return to Suffolk where I grew up and to start a new career and become a counsellor.

I strongly believe that the world of PR could do with prioritising mental health.

According to a 2016 report published by Careercast in PRWeek, PR was listed as the sixth most stressful profession behind the military, firefighters, airline pilots and police officers.

Mind, the mental health charity, for whom I have volunteered, say that in our lifetimes one in four of us will suffer from mental health problems – a worrying statistic.

In my practice I have counselled several PR professionals who are finding it hard to cope with the demanding pressures of the job.

This is hardly a representative sample, but it is indicative.

Sadly, despite positive moves in the recent past often promoted by very able PR campaigns, there is still a stigma attached to poor mental health and people are reluctant to speak out for fear that their careers may suffer.

In PR, the problem is compounded by the fact that so few companies offer to pay for staff counselling. There are no statistics that definitely show the industry lags behind others, but based on my own experience, mental health has not been a priority.

This is short-sighted. Anxious staff do not deliver their best.

A report from The Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2015 showed that 17 million people had time off work due to stress, depression and anxiety, adding that time off in the workplace has increased 25 per cent year on year (2014 -2015), equivalent to 8.8 million working days.

Surely it is time for the PR industry to take the lead on this and offer help and support where it is needed?

It would be a good way to burnish a reputation but more importantly, protect and get the most out of the highly creative people who work in the industry.

Eileen Wise is the former global head of PR for The Economist and the founder of Wise Counselling

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