How charity communicators can protect their mental health in the digital age

A new guide says charity communicators need to do more to protect their mental health in the digital age, such as having screen breaks and developing coping strategies when writing about emotive issues.

Joe Lepper | 20th Sep 19

Charity PR professionals have been issued with guidance on how to protect their mental health against problems in the social media and digital age.

Charity Comms, which represents the charity communication sector specialists, says that the mental health challenges of working in an “always on” world of social media and digital communications “cannot be underestimated”.

Its Wellbeing Guide For Comms Professionals stresses that the growth of social media in PR professionals’ lives encourages an expectation that they should respond to the public and supporters instantly.


Checking emails at night

In addition, online and mobile technology has encouraged people to work longer hours, for example by checking emails  and social media at night.

Consultant Kirsty Marrins, who wrote the guidance and has been working in charity communications since 2009, said: “Over the years, the growth of social media has meant that we are closer to our supporters, volunteers, beneficiaries and even our colleagues than ever before. But with this growth comes the pressure of being ‘always on’, the expectation of needing to respond instantly and the increasing inability to switch off.

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“It’s not just those of us who work in social media who feel this. How often do you check your work email outside of work hours? If you work in PR, media, or any other form of direct or indirect communications, no doubt you are also ‘always on’.

“Technology has made it easier to check in at any time of the day or night – whether it’s emails, social media channels, WhatsApp or Slack – work is never far away.

“Back in 2009 I certainly didn’t have access to work emails on my phone, nor would I check social media out of office hours. So much has changed in just ten years but how much has changed when it comes to looking after our wellbeing?”


Stress and anxiety

The guide includes advice from Wellspring Therapy Service Counsellor Helen Breakwell on spotting indicators of poor mental health.

This includes knowing the physical and mental symptoms of stress and anxiety, whether a workplace culture is supportive enough and understanding the challenges of producing often emotive content for charities.

“These feelings can be intensified if it’s a particularly harrowing subject or the issues have personally affected you,” states the guide.

Being recommended is ensuring a good work life balance, that there is support at work and developing coping strategies that don’t involve turning to alcohol, drugs, junk food, or more work itself.

The guide also stresses the importance of taking a break from screens due to the increasing use of digital technology in charity communication professionals lives.

“If your role involves a lot of digital technology then allowing yourself to take breaks is important,” states the guidance.

“If you find that you’re closing your laptop to then just pick up your phone, your brain is not getting much of a break from the onslaught of information. If your role involves ‘on call’ work, then it’s even more vital that you take breaks from the screen because your brain is frequently being alerted to potential threats – such as a troll.”


Screen-free day

The guide states: “Try turning off your phone at 9pm, not having it in your bedroom and having a screen-free day on Sunday. Getting into a routine and adjusting your lifestyle is a much easier way to make a long-term change.”

Adeela Warley, Charity Comms Chief Executive Officer, added: “The rewards of doing cause related comms can be great but that doesn’t mean it comes without it’s challenges.

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“As a sector we have a duty of care to staff who are often the first point of contact for anyone engaging in the vast range of amazing causes we represent.

“The incredible job that Charity communicators do should never be underestimated and investing in their wellbeing at work should be a priority.”