How stressed are we? The mental health and wellness of Canada's public relations practitioners: Key findings

Earlier this year, CPRS members and others in Canada’s public relations community were asked to complete a survey on their mental health and wellness, and participate in interviews.   Preliminary results were presented at the 2017 CPRS Conference, and final results are now in.   I wanted to share these with CPRS members, and also extend my thanks to CPRS, to my advisor Dr. Terry Flynn, and to those who so generously shared of their time to participate in this research. Anonymous quotes in this article came from the interviews, or from narrative comments made by respondents as part of the survey.

  • PR practitioners are largely enthusiastic and positive about their work, as 91 % either strongly agree or somewhat agree they get a sense of satisfaction from their work.
  • Almost three quarters of respondents (71.6%) either agree or strongly agree they have support at work to balance their work and personal life, however,
  • Almost a third (30.7%) say they can never or almost never compete their workload during regular hours.
  • Communicators’ top three sources of stress in order are: 1. Time Pressures/Not enough time; 2. Own work situation e.g. Hours of work, working conditions, 3. Financial Situation.
“It’s expected that we need to be connected, ready to jump in, at all times. It’s unbearable to constantly live with an expectation of never being able to ‘turn off’ our brain.”
Physical and Mental Health
A significant majority (71.6%) rated their physical health as very good or good and 11.6% as excellent, but a quarter (25.8%) say their health is either somewhat worse of much worse than a year ago.
  • 33.5% say they have suffered from or have been diagnosed with a mental illness. 
  • At the time of the survey, 16% said they were either currently experiencing a mental health disorder/illness or had been diagnosed within the past six months.
  • Just under a quarter of respondents rated their mental health as fair to poor.
  • 33.5% said they have sought counselling in the past year for personal problems and one in five (20.4%) said they have sought counselling for work-related problems.
 “Public relations and communications is an incredibly demanding industry that requires a lot of physical and emotional energy.  Sometimes it feels that by expressing concerns around your mental health that you are not good enough to do your job.  More conversation between management and their employees would be ideal – and negotiating a more flexible workplace when necessary to accommodate individuals (sic) personal mental health needs.”
  • The jury is still out on whether technology is making things better for those who responded to the survey. The numbers were tight between those who said it has made things better and those who report no change.
  • For example, 43.4% said technologies such as the internet, social media and instant messaging have increased flexibility in hours worked, while 47% reported no change.  Responses were similar across other indicators.
  • However, respondents reported that technology has clearly expanded the number of people they communicate with.  71.2% reported this was the case while only 26% reported no change.
  “With the introduction of the internet and social media, the drain on practitioners is more abundant than ever. It would be helpful to streamline what the roles are within organizations to help eliminate some of the overlap into other roles that could be draining on time.”
Talking about mental health
71.3% said a colleague has discussed their mental health with them, and 89.6% said they would feel comfortable responding to a colleague about their mental health concerns.
  • However, practitioners are far less comfortable discussing their own mental health with colleagues and even more uncomfortable discussing their mental health with their line managers.  About 61.9 per cent of respondents said they would either be fairly uncomfortable of very uncomfortable talking about their mental health with their line manager.
  • Further, about 39.7% feel Canada’s PR community is not very accepting of people with mental illness and 4.8% said it is very unaccepting.  While some respondents have shared their personal story and have not experienced any backlash, others felt the nature of our work makes it difficult. 
“For our profession, mental illness is a deep secret.  If I can’t project my personal brand, how can I project anyone else’s?”
Continuing the conversation
One thing that came out very clearly is that there is a strong desire among participants to continue the conversation on this topic within the public relations community.  Several theme areas of possible action were noted in the research, including: more research; education and training, not only for practitioners but also for students planning to enter the practice and for people who manage communications practitioners; working conditions; support/resources and more discussion and awareness.
 “We invest so much of ourselves into our client and our client work that we don’t take care of ourselves,”
“I think if we as professional communicators could share more stories and coping strategies, we would be better off.”
“When I was first working in this industry 17 years ago, nobody told me what it would be like – the pressures, demands, deadlines, etc.  I think more education and awareness around the potential challenges that new entrants to the field may face would go a long way in preparing them for what’s (potentially) to come.”
“I would like the industry (to) take steps to regulate how much people should work as a preventative measure to reduce mental stress. The PR professionals I know will work as many hours as it takes to get the job done, even at the detriment of their own health. It’s a job that can be 24/7 if we are not careful, and I think there could be something done by employers to protect people from falling prey to the need to always be ‘on’.”
The research study “How stressed are we? The mental health and wellness of Canada’s public relations practitioners” was completed by Diane Riddell, M.S., APR in partial fulfillment of a Masters of Science in Communication Management from the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The study received 258 responses to a national, bilingual survey conducted this spring.   Eleven detailed one-on-one interviews were also conducted with a sub-set of survey respondents.   The researcher, Diane Riddell, M.S., APR can be reached