A PR Priority: Raising Awareness Around Mental Wellness

Much of the world’s population has entered a new social era. From social distancing, to lockdowns, our new reality can produce feelings of isolation, loneliness, overwhelmedness and depression. All this is severely taxing on mental health, which includes emotional, psychological and social well-being.

Indeed, one in five Americans experiences a mental health issue in a given year. Globally, that number is one in four. Mental disorders can affect women and men differently. Certain types of disorders are more common and unique to women.

In recent months, high-profile female athletes, political figures, actresses, musicians and other influencers have shared stories creating awareness and advocacy for mental health.

Mental wellness is not just a timely trend–it should be an industry priority. It is becoming one of the biggest issues facing communicators in the post-pandemic recovery.

The Cost of Influence

The National Safety Council estimates mental illness annually cost employers $80-$100 billion in indirect costs.

Deadlines, demanding executives and clients, 24-hour news cycles, social media's speed and feeds, ethical dilemmas, misinformation, humanitarian crisis and a global pandemic. Drowning in information overload, the anxiety and effects of daily life are very real, especially for women. For women in PR, there is a hidden cost for balancing risk and reputation to drive influence–your mental wellness.

A study from the New York Women in Communications (NYWICI) argues that more than 60 percent of communication professionals experienced negative emotional issues during the pandemic. Women communicators were more impacted than men in the field. Nearly half (47 percent) on male PR pros feel happy or optimistic about their future during the pandemic. Jus 32 percent of women in the sector felt that way, the survey shows.

Women of color suffer disproportionately from the kinds of adverse life experiences that can lead to depression, anxiety disorders and toxic levels of chronic stress. Moreover, historically, Black women are less likely to seek and accept mental health care due to concerns regarding stigma.

Normalizing the Narrative

There needs to be a shift in culture and behavior in PR with a focus on mental health awareness, advocacy and action.

The NYWICI study indicates 65 percent of women in communication expect mental health support from an employer. Moreover, there are many companies, within and outside communication, offering programs and tools to help employees deal with mental health and wellness. Still, there is room for improvement.

We need more and better communication about mental health assistance offerings. In addition, more messages about stopping the stigma around mental health are needed.

Companies should normalize taking mental health days. In addition, they should encourage employees to download meditation apps like Calm and others as part of their mental health regimen.

Offer programs like Mindful Mondays (leveraging the principles of mindfulness) and provide employees time for decompressing or recharging during the workday.

Data shows these initiatives are more than a feel-good nod. Investment in employee mental health care can boost productivity, raise morale and improve retention, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study shows.

From Stigma to Solutions

It is important for communication leaders to align with HR around advocating for employees’ mental health and wellness. Below are suggestions for promoting employee mental wellness:

  • Familiarize managers and employees about listening for and recognizing that someone may be suffering emotional issues.
  • Actively and consistently promote mental health resources and programs in internal employee communication.
  • Incorporate the topic of mental wellness in executive presentations, leadership talking points, Town Halls, community or business unit wide calls, etc.
  • Offer self-screening programs and training like Mindfulness sessions and badges that encourage mental wellness.
  • Introduce stress management as a part of annual training for HR/managers.

Women communicators can succeed and advance in the industry without sacrificing their health, time, or relationships. PR must consider emphasizing recovery strategies focused on more mindful communication.

Brandi Boatner is manager, digital & advocacy communications, IBM, and VP, student programming, NYWICI board of directors