Can you have a killer PR career despite having a killer problem?

Do you know how easy it is to develop a drinking or substance abuse problem in the UK PR industry? Pretty bloody easy.

I've been there – and it's best to talk to someone about it, advises Kev O'Sullivan
I've been there – and it's best to talk to someone about it, advises Kev O'Sullivan

For the first five years, it’s an essential social lubricant for friend-making. For the next five years, it’s an essential social lubricant for media and client-schmoozing. For the next five years, it’s an essential remedy for stress and anxiety.

For the final five years, it’s the essential source of all stress and anxiety – and some don’t even have the luxury of a 20-year descent.

I write this from an uncommon yet not unique vantage point.

Having endured an untreated anxiety disorder and alcoholism for many years, I know just how subtle the descent from launch party highs to career-jeopardising lows can be.

But with World Mental Health Day tomorrow, I wanted to assure my peers, colleagues, clients and all those friends-I-haven’t-met-yet that help does exist.

And as talk of a second lockdown looms, now may be the time to seek that help.

The trap for an addict, of any variety, is being away from prying (read “concerned”) eyes.

With WFH-ing now the norm, feeding any type of addiction – alcohol, drugs, fitness, love and sex, gambling or gaming – becomes seemingly simpler.

Plus, the lack of human connection only acts to amplify an addict’s noisy mind.

The mere thought of being in active addiction during Lockdown: Part Une horrified me – a fate worse than, well, anything, to be honest.

And I’ve put myself in some pretty humiliating, dangerous and horrifying situations due to these untreated mental health issues.

So, what does help look like? Well, I found there are four immediate things one can do:

1. Ask yourself whether you have a problem.
Look through this NHS website and see if any of the guidance feels relevant or relatable. A little hint: if you’re regularly Googling whether you have a problem, you probably do.

2. Speak to your GP.
They often recommend AA (which is worthwhile) or refer you to mental health professionals ranging from therapists to psychiatrists. A medical professional should also be able to get you the appropriate time off work to organise the right support. Rehabilitation centres are often expensive, but also worthwhile.

3. Speak to your HR or talent team if you feel comfortable in doing so.
My own agency experience surpassed every single expectation imaginable – the high level of enlightenment, acceptance and support was just wow, wow and wow. However, I have had other colleagues and employers that I doubt would have been so enlightened. I was given all the time and resources I needed to help me recover.

4. Do not expect your colleagues to have the answers.
In this situation, they really are PR, not ER. However, if you know of any colleagues or any peers in other agencies who have been open about their experiences, perhaps seek their thoughts.

Equally, if you’re concerned about somebody else, maybe speak to them this weekend.

You may not “convert” them overnight – and nor should you even try to convert them – but being available is invaluable.

One of the most motivating resources for an addict entering recovery is being aware of the love, respect and support of those they love, respect and support.

Be genuine and open about your concerns, including how their drinking (for example) is affecting your relationship.

The outcome may not be immediate rainbows and unicorns because addiction does not like being challenged. But we don’t like addiction, so: #sorrynotsorry.

For those who are struggling themselves, please speak to somebody – even if it’s me. I’m pretty easy to find these days.

There is an amazing life out there waiting for you; don’t let the disease get in your way.

And for those curious about whether I’m scared about clients, colleagues, prospects and future employers reading this: I’d be more scared if they didn’t.

We must create a supportive industry and supportive environments. It’s important and urgent we do so.

Have a healthy and worldly World Mental Health Day.

Kev O’Sullivan is senior partner and executive creative director, London, at FleishmanHillard Fishburn


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