Five solutions to stress, anxiety & depression in public relations

Today is World Mental Health Day. And here are few pertinent facts for those working in the communications industry to consider:

  • 34% of PR professionals have been diagnosed with or experienced some form of mental ill health (PRCA)
  • 30% of PR professionals say they are ‘somewhat unhappy’ or ‘not at all happy’ when indicating their level of workplace wellbeing (CIPR)
  • 60% of PR professionals report that they are ‘stressed’ or ‘very stressed’ at work (Comms2Point0)
  • Public relations has been listed as the sixth most stressful career you can have (CareerCast)

I could go on. And on. And on.

But the point is clear. Stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are rife within the communications industry. It’s safe to assume that if you’re working in an office of 20 people, at least a couple are suffering with poor mental health right now. Today.

In an office of 20 #PR people, at least a couple are suffering with poor mental health right now
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I wrote about the reasons for this in the book #FuturePRoof: Edition Two, and you can now read that entire chapter in full and for free here.

But today I’m going to look beyond the causes. Depression, stress and anxiety can seriously impact an individual’s ability to work and, consequently, their productivity and effectiveness. The OECD states that mental health issues cost the UK £70 billion per year, while the World Health Organisation says that if we don’t act urgently, depression will be the leading illness worldwide by 2030.

So I’m going to suggest a few ways in which organisations can minimise the impact of the inherent stress in PR for the benefit of all concerned.

1. Talk About Stress in PR

The stigma around mental health is massive. Considering the prevalence of anxiety, stress and depression, how often have you heard anyone in your workplace talking about having an issue with it?

A study by MIND revealed that less than half of those diagnosed with a mental illness had disclosed it to their employer and that 19% of people felt they couldn’t tell their boss if they were overly stressed. And significantly, 90% of those who have taken a day off work due to stress cited another reason for their absence to their boss.

Less than half of those diagnosed with a mental illness disclose it to their employer
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Poor mental health is not a sign of weakness any more than a broken leg is a sign of weakness.

The very best thing you can do when you’re suffering is to acknowledge it to yourself and to talk to someone. It doesn’t really matter who that person is. It could be a family member, a colleague, a friend or a doctor. It could be your boss.

So encourage those in your organisation to talk. Empower them.

public relations stress, anxiety & depression

2. Create an Open Culture

If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard the phrase “we have an open door policy”

Most of the time it’s bullshit. It’s paying lip service to people’s insecurities.

When it comes to mental well-being, leaving a notional door ajar is simply not enough. Quite simply, people don’t talk about stress and depression enough and your ‘open door policy’ will not encourage them to do so.

If you really, truly want to look after the well-being of your employees, you need to discuss it in the workplace on a regular basis.

So to start with, consider bringing in someone to talk about stress in the workplace, the effects it can have and how you can address it on a personal level. (Click here for information on workplace mental health training.)

Then commit to sharing information regularly and reminding people that they do not need to suffer in silence. Accept that stress is a part of people’s jobs and make them feel secure that talking about it will not damage their credibility and career prospects.

To act on mental health, bring in someone to talk about stress, its effects & how to address it
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3. Provide a Safety Net

When you’re in a poor mental state, work is very, very tough. And I speak from over a decade of personal experience.

Motivation plummets. Attention to detail falters and silly mistakes creep in. You can become absent-minded. It takes you three times as long to do anything. You can’t deal with criticism and demands on your time at all well. You don’t want to be around your colleagues. In short, it’s disabling.

How do managers typically deal with poor productivity, mistakes or a withdrawn attitude? Performance reviews.

But what if, instead of making your staff feel even worse about themselves, you helped people work through their issues in an open and collaborative manner by encouraging them to talk (see points 1 and 2 above)? What if you provided escape mechanisms where people can work in different ways from time to time if they need to?

Simple things like late starts or early finishes, flexible working hours and working from home really do help when you find it difficult to function to your normal level. But what about things like actively promoting sensible working hours and banning out of hours emails?

Studies have shown that working after hours contributes to emotional exhaustion and negatively impacts performance. Being ‘always-on’ and even just having ‘assumed availability’ is enough to create constant stress.

So provide these ‘benefits’, actively promote them and the reasons why, and don’t frown upon it when someone uses them.

stress, anxiety & depression in public relations

4. Provide training

Much of the reason the communications industry has such a big problem with mental well-being is not because of the stress of the job itself, but because no-one is taught how to deal with it. It’s not that managers don’t want to help, it’s that they don’t know how to spot issues and what to do about it if they do.

Formal training for management personnel gives them the skills to identify signs of poor mental health and the confidence to know how to act if and when issues arise.

Ask yourself this: do you really know how to spot when someone is suffering from depression? Would you know what to do if someone approached you tomorrow and said that they needed help with anxiety?

Invest in the understanding of the people in your organisation and be open about mental well-being and it will go a very, very long way towards increasing the happiness, productivity and profitability of your company. (Click here for information on workplace mental health training.)

Invest in mental health training to increase workplace happiness, productivity & profitability
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5. Draw a Line in the Sand

Enough is enough. Your organisation has a problem with mental well-being. EVERY organisation has a problem with mental well-being. So don’t bury your head in the sand or think you’ll deal with it at a later date; you won’t.

Commit to tackling this issue right here, right now.

Say it and mean it. Make a difference to the people you employ and to the people around you in your team and your company. Your employees and your bottom line will thank you for it.


For more advice on best practice mental health provision, increasing the mental well-being of your staff, enhancing their understanding of stress, anxiety and depression, or investing in training for your managers, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

I run modular courses on mental well-being for communications teams of all sizes, from simple talks and training sessions to full corporate assessments.


Further reading:

Company culture: Managing stress, presenteeism and mental health from #FuturePRoof: Edition Two

The stress report: why employee well-being is the new bottom line from Campaign

50 million years of work could be lost to mental illness by 2030, says WHO from The Telegraph

It’s time to combat the mental health epidemic in pr and comms from Comms2Point0

Marketing and PR’s ‘always on’ culture is a mental health issue from The Drum

Work is biggest cause of stress in people’s lives from MIND

Stress and Crisis in Public Relations: Staying Cool on the Go from the PRSA

Work Life Balance from the Mental Health Foundation

Understanding Stress from the NHS

The Top Five Reasons PR is So Darn Stressful from Adweek

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