Is there a mental health epidemic in the Comms industry?

Jo Hooper

I know tons of people in comms who struggle with their mental health. Not surprising, as it’s known to be a high stress, high pressure industry with incredibly high standards.

This combo was hugely triggering for my mental health – my perfectionism went wild, I developed continual severe anxiety and as my work started to slip the depression kicked in. My mind was telling me I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t contribute anything, that I’d soon be found out, all while my body was falling apart – I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t eating properly, had daily stomach pains, regular headaches and random aches and pains.

It turns out it isn’t just me and my mad pals (hi lads). The CIPR State of the Profession report 2019, released today, has found that 21% of people in our industry have a diagnosed mental health condition and 23% have taken time off work due to stress, anxiety or depression.

Mad and sad club is all about learning from lived experience, so I asked my online community what it was about work that was triggering for their mental health.

The top answers were:

  • People
  • Others’ expectations
  • Lack of communication
  • Lack of available help
  • Volume of emails

We’re not all the same – one mad and sad club member said:

“I don’t find work generally triggering for my mental health – it has always been what balances me, although there have definitely been periods in the past when work was so busy it’s made my whole life feel out of control.”

The CIPR’s research shows that the proportion of people struggling with their mental health at work is growing and the insight from the mad and sad club community highlights how triggering work can be. 

Let me know in the comments if work has an impact on your mind.

“I’ve found that since experiencing depression, a crisis or perceived crisis at work now can overwhelm me in a way it simply never has in the past. But it’s not in the normal sense of a tough week or hard decision that sets me off, it’s if someone at work treats me in a way that I feel is rough or unfair. So it’s almost like I’m more sensitive to other people’s emotions in the workplace when I have low mood, and if I think they blame me for something I can find that is a really strong trigger for a downward spiral.”

David Chaplin, Head of Campaigns & Strategic Communications, Which?

Taking action on mental health at work as a manager can seem overwhelming. If you haven’t experienced a mental health issue yourself, you may be unsure how to approach someone, what to say to them, what support they might need and how you’d provide that.

To cut through the confusion, try to think about it in three stages.

In my experience, you need to:

  • Understand mental ill health
  • Learn how to talk about it with confidence
  • Take action

By structuring your thinking and planning in this way, you can take some simple steps to improve the experience of your people who might be struggling to manage their mental health.

Understanding and talking about mental health issues in the workplace is one way to start to build an open culture where people feel confident to speak up. It isn’t easy and people need to feel that they won’t be judged and that action will be taken. When you’re feeling a bit mad or sad, you’re at your most vulnerable and exposing that vulnerability to people you want to respect you is incredibly daunting.

“I do feel comfortable being open about my mental health at work now, yes. In previous jobs I’ve had managers - one in particular - who simply didn’t get it and would continue to act in ways that I told him were triggers. I’d have liked a way to have a less confrontational conversation with a manager about their behaviour and how it affects me, but I think sometimes managers get defensive when you raise it and see it as criticism, which many people don’t like.”

David Chaplin

“I am OK talking about mental health at work at the moment, but that’s because I’m not suffering from any specific issues right now. When I have done, there was sympathy for the particular situation I was in, but nobody really followed up, to check in with me. Things have changed since then, and we’re a far more open culture, and I’m personally trying to develop some mental health initiatives at work this year.”

Anonymous mad and sad club member

As a manager, you can educate yourself about how to support your team.

The research showed that 23% of people had discussed their mental health issue with their manager, but nothing had happened.

This could be down to a number of reasons, but the most likely is that the person simply didn’t know what to do or how to help. If your organisation doesn’t run training to help you, you can educate yourself.

I will be running training and workshops for managers and internal communicators over the next few months to help you understand and talk about mental health issues at work and support your team – if you’d like to be the first to hear about these, please sign up to my newsletter here.

I’ll help you understand, talk about and take action on mental health at work.

If you would like to take the lead in tackling mental health in your workplace, get in touch – I’d love to help you work it out.

Let’s continue the conversation in the comments – what’s your take on these stats? Do they ring true to you? Would you like to understand mental health at work more?


You can download the full report here.

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