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Communicating about mental health – inspired by #commschat

by | Jul 16, 2019 | Behaviour, Communications, Content, Ethics, Language | 0 comments

Unusually for me I joined in a Twitter chat last night (15 July). I say unusually as I’m quite strict about my working hours and my screen time, because I feel it’s important for my mental wellbeing and work/life balance. It was #commschat, a weekly Twitter chat on a specified subject for people who work in comms. The topic last night was mental health communications at work. Unsurprisingly I have strong views on the words we use to communicate issues surrounding mental wellbeing, as I have strong views on the words we use to communicate everything.

For example “he/she had/has mental health issues”. We all have mental health issues. We all have mental health. Some of us have mental ill health. Mental wellbeing, positive mental health and mental wellness are issues for all of us, not just the oft-quoted statistically one in four that will suffer mental ill health at some point in their life.

In order to get buy in and change behaviours we have to use the right language, in both internal and external comms.

“Mental health issues” is often used in a derogatory way, in a whispered way (like hysterectomy or menopause) and in way that apportions blame, or as an excuse or as a performance issue. Which means, if we use that phrase it’s sending mixed messages. Mixed messages don’t help anyone. We need to be clear.

Whilst I think Time to Talk was great we now need (and have done for a long time) phase 2, phase 3 and phase 4. The same story is being told all over the UK – talk to who? Waiting times for NHS mental health support are too long and sufficient professional support is woefully lacking. And if employers are claiming to be on top of employee mental wellbeing do they have staff who are qualified to actually listen and support? If we carry on with the Time to talk/talk to someone narrative without the support systems to back this up aren’t we as comms pros part of the problem rather than the solution?

I’m a big fan of the Australian (I think) R U OK day. It’s a question, not a directive. It can get someone to open up. It can be the start of something. It’s proactive. It’s about human connection and compassion, which time to talk/talk to someone just isn’t. I’m also a big fan of the very simple “it’s OK to not be OK”.

Both internal and external comms can have meaningless pledges (aka tick boxes) and empty rhetoric without substance. Earlier this year there was an incident local to me where a business that claimed to offer excellent mental wellbeing support to employees came under the spotlight over the interviewing style of its CEO. An interviewee, who was offered the job, tweeted about how she felt after the interview and in particular the CEO’s style. I’m not casting aspersions, nor am I linking to the story for SEO points or to amplify an issue that I hope has now been resolved, BUT the Glassdoor reviews for the company and the tweets from ex-employees after the story went viral appeared to show a distinct lack of employee wellbeing support. I’m hoping the company in question has now properly investigated the concerns of current and ex-employees and addressed its approach to mental wellbeing. We are not homogenised things or personas, and one employee’s “yee ha” at Friday after works drinks for team bonding (enforced fun) is another’s hell on earth.

As comms pros we have a moral and professional collective responsibility to help move the conversation on with positive messages, supportive language, systems support that can back up the campaigns, and words PLUS actions that can actually be the change.

 

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