Asking questions. Checking in with friends and colleagues. Listening. We comms people should be really good at this stuff in relation to health and wellbeing in our industry. The truth is we haven’t always been up to scratch. But I sense we’re getting better, in no small part because of brave people who have stood up and told their stories.
by Leanne Ehren
Every time I tell my story, I get a little stronger. At the same time, I have to relive those moments of darkness and challenge. I used to see this as weakness but I’ve learned over time it is not; it’s simply me connecting with my mental health, tuning in to my body and reassuring myself it’s okay to not be okay.
I’ve said that phrase a lot over the past year and to more comms people than I can count. Because one thing I have noticed first-hand is that when you stand up and start to tell your story other people start to tell you theirs.
Outing myself as someone with a diagnosed mental health illness (PTSD) and as someone who has experienced periods of poor mental health was not easy. I thought I would be judged; be shunned to the side; be overlooked for new jobs and career progression. All of this was utter bullsh*t that was in my head.
The more I talked about my experience, the more people listened and the more people started talking back to me. I must have heard dozens of heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories from comms people about their mental health. These conversations usually kick off after I’ve spoken at a conference, posted a few lines on LinkedIn, or piped up about the state of the industry on Twitter.
You lovely lot have entrusted me with your stories and told me that by sharing mine you feel more empowered to start talking, start making changes or helping others around you. We know that as a society we’re now talking about mental health more than every before, which is a fantastic thing, and I think as an industry, we are getting there. Slowly.
The latest stats being released today (World Mental Health Day October 10) by PRCA will reveal the highest ever percentage of PRs are reporting to have experienced poor mental health in the past year. Every single measure is up. I’d like to think this is because we are starting to feel more comfortable acknowledging our mental health and it’s quirks, and also that people are starting to feel it is okay to not be okay.
More and more celebrities are talking about their mental health; you only need to look at the latest NHS campaign Every Mind Matters to see the width and breadth of stars featuring in it, standing up to talk about mental health and to be recognised as advocates.
But you don’t need to be a celebrity or have airtime on national television to make a difference. I genuinely believe that by telling our stories we can be part of an important conversation about mental health; a conversation that helps to normalise poor mental health; a conversation that helps leaders understand what they can do to support their teams through times of challenge; and a conversation that makes it easier for those people who need help, reach out and get it.
I don’t believe having poor mental health has made me less of a person, nor do I think that what happened to me has broken me permanently. Yes I broke for a period of time, but like a broken leg, I mended over time. My mind will never be the same and I have to adapt and am still learning to work with my new mind, but I am getting there. Someone once explained to me that when the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.
So this is my message to you: if you are a beautiful, gold-infused, person, talk to others about it. Write about it. Stand up on a stage and share with our industry your experiences, what you have learned and how you are now an even better version of yourself. Every mind matters and every story matters, so please, when you are ready, tell yours.
Leanne Ehren is a mental health and wellbeing advocate, and operational stakeholder lead at Anglian Water. You can say hello on Twitter at @LeanneEhren
Image via Joshua Ommen