By Meg Dibb-Fuller, digital and social media officer here at the NHSBSA.
Hi there. I’m Meg, digital and social media officer. I’m relatively new to the communications team here at the NHSBSA. A little bit about me… I’ve been working in the marketing and communications (marcomms) sphere for eight years now; across a variety of industries, countries, positions and sectors. These include: the digital team at Sainsbury’s HQ in London, the digital team at Fairfax Media HQ in Auckland, New Zealand and the marketing team at Debenhams HQ in London. I also won the accolade of marketing, creative and PR’s employee of the year for my work within the advertising team during my time at Debenhams.
Why have I done this? To become as rounded as possible, learn skills, meet people, see the world and grow professionally (and personally).
And boy, I’ve just done just that.
But being brutally honest, doing so has severely impacted me, not physically but emotionally; my mental health.
Let’s put it in context
It’s been splashed all over the headlines recently that one in four experience mental illness each year. Yet despite mental illness being better understood, both medically and socially, the prejudice and stigma attached to certain conditions remains rife. With this in mind, do you think one in four is the real number? Or is this number just those who put their hand up and talk about it.
- 41% of UK businesses have seen an increase in episodes of mental health issues among their employees vs five years ago
- Research from the Government’s recent review shows that poor mental health costs employers between £33 billion and £42 billion a year
- 743,000 of UK employees have taken a long-term absence over the past 12 months due to mental ill health
- (Source: Bupa Business Mental Health Advantage)
Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) surveys:
- In 2015, over one third of people working in PR and communications have experienced or had been diagnosed with mental ill health and the majority would not feel comfortable talking to their boss about it
- In 2017, a FuturePRoof report (conducted for the PRCA) revealed that mental illness in our industry is being ignored and even treated as a performance issue! (I’m sorry, what?)
- (Source: Mental Health | PRCA)
I’ve spent the last eight years on the go; with multiple jobs, companies, locations, countries, positions and I’d even managed to do my fitness qualifications to become a dance instructor (which I taught three-plus classes a week) whilst working in demanding jobs.
And earlier this year, it all came to a head. I found myself well, broken.
I was crying all the time, I had insomnia, I had rashes all over me, I was drinking too much, felt overwhelming guilt for not replying to a text (bizarre) let alone anything else(!), work got too much and I was incredibly anxious about answering the phone (so not me!). These were only a few of my symptoms.
As some of you may know, this is not me. My friends know me as the ‘positive one’, the ‘go-getter’ and Little Miss Sunshine. But at the point, I was far from it. I felt like I’d turned into this horrible beast and didn’t know who I was any more, quite scary. What had come over me? Well, a psychiatrist told me… anxiety, stress and chronic depression.
Why am I telling you all this? I moved back home to Newcastle from London to get the help and support I needed (I promise you, there’s SO MUCH out there) and I’m pleased to say that I’m on the road to recovery. A few things that I’m doing to help me are: medication, 1:1 counselling, group meditation sessions, keeping a ‘positivity’ diary (get in touch for more info) and I’m now teetotal (life changing!). To manage expectations, this didn’t happen overnight. It was trial and error to get to where I am.
I was so lucky to get the help and support I needed from my partner, family, friends and professionals. We need to remember that mental health is like another form of illness, like diabetes, it’s manageable.
If there is one thing that has overwhelmed me since opening up to people about my mental health battles, is the sheer number of family members, friends and colleagues who opened up about their own personal experiences, and I’m proud of every single one of them.
Not only is it one of the hardest things for a sufferer to do, it’s a hugely important thing to do if we are in any way able to break down the barriers and the stigma that is deep rooted in our society.
Communications (specifically) seems to be one of the few functions in a business with a ‘boundary spanning’ characteristic. Although this may be a generalisation for all business, this means there’s a vast amount of people to keep happy and informed.
I would personally say that the key skill to do this job is (you may find surprising), dealing with setbacks.
We need to maintain high levels of concentration, be alert and work towards tight deadlines. We’re blamed when things go wrong, we’re blamed when things go right as they could have gone better, we’re told things are not good ideas (but some are!), we’re in an environment where there’s a lot of competition for our job and there’s this underlying, unspoken about tension from other business areas thinking that they can do communications, and they could definitely do it better than us. Let’s not forget the many competing priorities, and the increasing expectation to respond to social media activity around the clock. All of this has the potential to accumulate and test even the best and lead us to make mistakes, causing additional stress.
If we took even some of this to heart, without the skills to deal with it, then it has the potential to be very traumatic.
We need to communicate more, to talk about us
Here’s the catch 22. As an industry, we tend to speak more about others rather than ourselves; we keep our feelings and emotions under wraps in embarrassment that we’ll appear weak or that we’re failing.
This needs to change, we can change this
I love my job. I love communication and I love people. I wouldn’t change that. But… if mental health is to be taken seriously in the workplace it’s not just a communications issue to solve. It needs to be recognised and supported from top to bottom and within all policies and procedures, including the sickness policy. I have to say, I’ve been extremely lucky at the NHSBSA to have always been asked by my line managers if everything is ok, so thank you.
And as communicators, we have a privileged role to play in cultivating a culture of openness within our workplace so that colleagues, and ourselves, feel able to speak freely about mental illness in a safe environment.
I hope I’ve inspired you to talk up.
If you have any questions or comments on any of the above, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also get help or start a conversation with national and local organisations that can provide information on mental health and suicide, for yourself or for someone you know.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): a service for young men (open from 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year)
Tel: 0800 58 58 58
Tel: 0300 123393