Can PR help fix a broken leg?

Yesterday (a Saturday), I felt so overwhelmed with anxiety that I could barely move. My mind was whirring a million miles an hour — I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole with every anxious, sad, blaming thought after thought popping into my head. I couldn’t even force enough space between them to decide on what I could do to alleviate some of the stress. My boyfriend found me on the sofa in tears (add Mrs “Oh well done, now he’s going to be worrying about you and you’ve ruined his day” Mole to the list). While I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly two years, it’s taken me some time to open up to him about having suffered with spells of anxiety and depression and — although I am now much better at managing it — the fact that they’ll probably always be lurking about. It’s not a topic he’s been particularly close to before, but he’s a very caring person so he does try to understand what it is, how it has an effect on me and whether there is anything he can do to help. Yesterday, when I said I just wanted to go back to bed for a bit but that I felt guilty about it, he told me “If you had the flu, you’d go back to bed. Sometimes if you’re ill, all you can do is rest.”. It was wonderful — I was able to make a decision. I got back into bed, I eventually managed to get some sleep, and I woke up feeling like the fog had cleared a little bit.

It feels society is slowly starting to (rightly) consider mental health on a par with physical health which is a massive milestone. I work in the PR industry which tends to see itself as fairly modern and forward thinking, so I’m lucky that healthy attitudes towards mental health (whether that’s encouraging people to look after theirs, or supporting those who do struggle) is a particularly popular topic at the moment. This presents a huge opportunity — but one that needs to be handled carefully and respectfully. I wanted to start sharing my own experiences and opinions, to play my part in ensuring this movement is as positive and impactful as it has the potential to be.

The first topic I thought I’d address is the ‘broken leg’ analogy. I’ve heard it a lot — whether it’s been in the context of my own experience of mental illness or someone else’s: “If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t be expected to walk around on it like nothing was wrong.”. Similarly, if you had flu no one would expect you not to go back to bed if you were feeling ropey. That’s why I referenced yesterday’s conversation — these comparisons (although a little hazy) help others to help you, because they go some way to explaining what can feel like the inexplicable. And that’s what PR is good at — taking something that might feel completely alien to an audience and making it relatable. As an industry, we are in such a strong position to power this mental wellbeing movement forwards. Take just a few of our key skills:

* We spend our careers putting ourselves in other people’s shoes to understand how they think, what they need, how they want to be spoken to (mental illness affects so many people in so many different ways — but we have the capability to be understanding and empathetic)

* We are innovators — we use creativity to think about new ways of tackling problems to find a solution, even when it feels bold or daring (there is no magic formula or cure for dealing with the likes of anxiety or depression, so the more ways we can think of to help support those dealing with it, the better)

* We celebrate each other’s successes — from securing blanket coverage for a campaign launch, through to finally seeing through a feature that’s taken six months of pitching, drafting and chasing to appear. We understand the ‘small’ things can be just as much of an achievement (and when you have depression, this can be getting yourself into the office in the morning)

While the ‘broken leg’ analogy has — undoubtedly — served a positive purpose, we can shift the dial further. People are now starting to establish a base-level understanding of mental health and mental illness, which is a huge leap forward that should be celebrated. Now, it’s about developing this. How can we fully normalise the discussion around mental health? What new and innovative ways can we come up with to help look after our mental wellbeing? And even if you don’t work in the industry, that’s clearly not to say you don’t have any or all of these skills and capabilities. Ultimately, it’s about as many people as possible working together to bring equality and value to mental wellbeing.

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Combining my day job with my most vulnerable experiences and opening it up to public opinion. What could go wrong.

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Rebecca Stevenson

Rebecca Stevenson

Combining my day job with my most vulnerable experiences and opening it up to public opinion. What could go wrong.

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