Mental health guide launched to prevent comms professionals from breaking down

Concerns that significant numbers of PR practitioners are under increasing pressure, being trolled on social media and in need of counselling, have prompted the creation of a wellbeing guide for comms professionals.

A guide has been launched to help comms professionals cope with the pressures of their work (Pic credit: solarseven/Getty Images)
A guide has been launched to help comms professionals cope with the pressures of their work (Pic credit: solarseven/Getty Images)

Written by digital comms specialist Kirsty Marrins, in collaboration with CharityComms, the guide was launched last Friday. It warns that the growth of social media has resulted in "the pressure of being ‘always on’, the expectation of needing to respond instantly and the increasing inability to switch off."

A trend in comms crises on social media, with the recent example of the row that engulfed the NSPCC over its decision to cut its ties with a transgender activist, prompted the creation of the guide.

Marrins told PRWeek: "Social media has been a wonderful way for organisations to market themselves and build relationships with their followers, but with it comes a lot of expectation. People expect a response on Twitter within an hour, for example, and it's this 'always on' culture that can really start to have an impact on wellbeing."

She added: "Social media also offers a degree of anonymity and people can become 'keyboard warriors'; saying things online that they would probably never say in person. As the person having to read angry, hurtful or abusive messages, this can take its toll – particularly if you don't have support in place to share how you're feeling. And it's not just social media, it's all comms roles."

Depending on the nature of their organisation, comms professionals may also encounter many sad, distressing stories that have an emotional effect, and this can build up over time to become an issue for their mental health, Marrins warned.

Warning signs

The guide includes advice from wellbeing experts and counsellors in safeguarding mental health, along with case studies from charities on how they look after wellbeing in their organisation.

"It’s important to recognise the daily, ‘business as usual’ situations that you as a communications professional consistently face, that could be impacting on your mental health," it states.

"Just because it’s not about you personally, doesn’t mean that it’s not internalised and won’t impact your wellbeing. Over time, the effect of hearing and seeing emotionally distressing or even abusive messages, will take its toll," the guide warns.

Being unable to wind down or relax, feeling anxious, and working every day are among the warning signs that comms professionals should heed. Physical symptoms could include headaches, stomach problems, and a tight chest, throat or jaw, according to the guide.

Pressurised working environment

Comms teams in the charity sector are under particular pressure as they "often deal with emotionally sensitive or emotionally charged issues", which can range from children with cancer to the plight of refugees.

"Without the right support in place, staff can experience issues with their mental health and even burnout, and this can have devastating consequences," the guide says.

The need for such a guide reflects a wider problem across the PR industry. Earlier this year PRWeek revealed how 60 per cent of PR professionals admitted having had mental ill-health, with stress, anxiety and depression commonly cited. Hypertension, panic attacks, anorexia, body dysmorphia, seasonal affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and self-harm were also mentioned.

The new guide is being promoted through social media, as well as through groups such as the Third Sector PR & Comms Network, and Fundraising Chat, which have 6,000 and 10,000 members respectively.

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