Shedding the shame on mental health: Atul Sharma

#Letstalk of mental aliments, giving them the same credence, if not more, that we give to physical conditions writes Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn and Vice President PRCAI.


This year, working from home, how often did you hear the words: time off, slow down, rest, here’s help? In the year of the pandemic when our very idea of a known normal stood challenged, we were pushed to take refuge in our comfort zones. At home, secluded corners transformed into make-shift offices. Home—the sacred space that we’d come back to had become a space we couldn’t leave. Between juggling work, zoom meetings, children, parents, online classes, for an average working professional the same refuge can begin to feel cagey, claustrophobic even.

This year, October 10 (also celebrated as Mental Health Day) witnessed a surge in conversations, perhaps unlike any we’ve seen in the recent past. The year has also been an inflection point—a rain check if you may–on long-held perceptions on mental illness. Since nothing about this year has been ordinary, let’s ensure that discussions on mental health are not ordinary either—or limited to the day. Let’s break away from the stigma that plagues conditions like stress, depression, ADHD and other mental health conditions and spread awareness all year round. #Letstalk of mental aliments, giving them the same credence, if not more, that we give to physical conditions.

Looking within, last year, Jane Fordham, a public relations talent consultant at the ICCO Global Summit presented an interesting question. Speaking on workplace stress and mental ill heath, which was the number one cause of absence in the PR industry, she said succinctly, “When did it become acceptable for what should be an uplifting, creative, cerebral career to become life-threatening?” Jane was referring to figures published by the Public Relations and Communications Association and research company Opinium that quoted “a shocking 89% of practitioners have struggled with mental wellbeing.” Furthermore, almost 31% of PR professionals said they found their job very stressful and 59% of PR workers (increasing to 62% in agency) claimed this stress was caused by the workload.” Ironically, 43% quoted stress as the main reason why they don’t take time off to address mental health issues. Click here to read the report

Thanks to the 24/7 breaking news cycle, the business of communications has become an always-on-all-consuming job and as numbers dictate, much of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of women. Our associates and peers who comprise almost 70% of our workforce, have through the pandemic taken on dual full-time jobs, walking a tight rope to maintain a balance between work and home.

The very role of women has undergone a seismic shift in the last couple of decades. The working woman has journeyed through this transition making what was once an exception, a norm today.

Think about it? Back in the day, if there were a handful of women who fought against the odds to work, today that number has drastically changed—for the better. Since women constitute the backbone of our very social construct (and our industry), perhaps this pandemic is an opportunity to take some of the baggage off their shoulders.

It’s time to tone down the expectations, stop bracketing women as superhuman and throw in dollops of empathy, understanding and care to help them unwind. A happy woman translates to a joyous household and a vibrant workspace, and I know of several men who will vouch for it. In our official capacity, let’s join hands to bring about some systemic changes within our workplaces and homes alike. Since we’ve spoken enough and more about the new normal, let’s all weave in discussions on mental health as a part of this new normal this year. Let’s finally bid adieu to the days of social ostracization viz-a-viz mental health and Letstalk. Let’s put the shame—on not being okay—finally to rest.

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