Looking after our mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19

Cheryl King-McDowall, Deputy Director for Professional Standards in the Government Communications Service, reflects on the importance of taking time out to focus on our mental health and wellbeing.

Photo of Cheryl King-McDowall.
Headshot of Cheryl King-McDowall, Deputy Director for Professional Standards in the Government Communications Service.

The ongoing response to COVID-19, coming at the same as EU Transition, is surely among the largest, most challenging and most important programmes a public service communicator could ever work on. Throughout this year, I’ve been hugely impressed with the standard of communications work being done at great pace in departments, agencies and arms-length bodies across Government.

The scale of this challenge means that it has never been more important for the communications profession to ensure mental health and wellbeing is a top priority for our leaders. Colleagues face a constant pressure to deliver high-quality, high impact work. This often means it can be difficult to switch off.

Communicators work in fast paced pressurised environments – it’s important to pay attention to wellbeing

Mental health isn’t a new issue. Last year, a study of mental wellbeing in communications found that 89 per cent of respondents had “struggled with their mental wellbeing”. We all have mental health, just as we have physical health, and it isn’t something which we can just put away when we log on for work each day.

A report from Opinium and the PRCA showed that one in four (26%) of PR professionals find their job extremely stressful, compared to 18% of the general public. According to the report, causes of this stress include unmanageable workloads (55%), the impact of coronavirus (44%) and poor work-life balance (43%).

No doubt many of you reading this will recognise some or all of these challenges.

Having recently had Black History Month, it’s a timely reminder that racism, discrimination and prejudice, all can have an impact on mental health.

We must challenge all forms of discrimination and support those who have experienced it.

Supporting communications professionals’ mental health and wellbeing

Earlier this year, one of our mental health first aiders, Matt Dolman, blogged about mental health and some of his top tips for looking after yourself and those around you. He also signposted useful resources which all of us can use, including those provided by The Charity for Civil Servants, the CIPR and the PRCA.

When it comes to ensuring we all have better health, Every Mind Matters is a great place to start. Developed by Public Health England, it’s a fantastic resource for anyone who might be experiencing poor mental health. The website offers practical tips which can help you strengthen your resilience, as well as provide support to your loved ones and the people around you.

In the longer-term, GCS is in the process of establishing a cross-government mental health and wellbeing group for communications professionals. If you would be interested in hearing more about this, please email us at gcs@cabinetoffice.gov.uk.

We’d also like to identify trained mental health first aiders or wellbeing leads in communications teams across Government. If you are a MHFAer, again, please let us know.

Take a look at the mental health resources from Public Health England.

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