InterComms Head of Membership Engagement, Ben O’Callaghan, writes on juggling mental health with the comms industry.
We’re all guilty of it in our personal lives; struggling to cope and not speaking up when our mental health suffers as a result. But in the communications industry, this is all too often the reality in our working lives too.
As trust in brands and traditional media plummets and everyone and their dog becomes a self-publishing source of information, the role of the comms pro becomes more difficult, more unpredictable and more demanding.
So how do you balance being happy and taking care of your mental health with a job that demands so much of your time and energy? For me, it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
I’ve been working in Government communications for almost three years now, working across disciplines and teams including press office, internal, strategic and digital and on a huge variety of high-profile and sometimes quite upsetting topics.
I spent much of this time saying yes to everything, piling on the work and getting as much experience as I could, constantly pushing boundaries and chasing promotions. It worked, at one point I was promoted through five Civil Service grades in 16 months, but this only provided a distraction from the damage I was doing to myself. I was killing it, how could there be anything wrong with that?
After a while I began to notice something was off with me. I’d become a different person at work. I was snappy, argumentative, stubborn and difficult to manage. I didn’t like who I’d become, but I had no control over it and couldn’t connect the dots to work out what was really going on.
In February I was at an all day event, part of which was a talk about managing stress and resilience at work. I began the hour rolling my eyes and thinking it was a waste of time, but ended it in tears having recognised so much of myself in what was said.
It was like someone had taken off a blindfold and I could finally see what had been in front of me the whole time; I was so stressed I was on the verge of a full on breakdown. I was so ashamed of myself. I’m very good at taking care of my mental health when it comes to my personal life – how could I have allowed this to happen?
I immediately signed myself off work for a week and spoke to my doctor who signed me off for a further three for ‘work related stress’. It should never have come to this though, especially because I work for the Civil Service, who have so much support in place for resilience, wellbeing and mental health.
Sadly, I know this isn’t the case in the private sector and the level of support and understanding varies greatly from one organisation to the next. This is why it’s extra important that you take care of your own mental health; know the limits of your resilience and learn to identify when you’re reaching them.
Nobody is going to stop piling work on you until you say no and nobody is going to offer you support unless you ask for it. Build yourself a support network, learn when to push back and most importantly, put yourself first. After all, today’s headlines are just tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.