Breaking the Silence: A Conversation on Mental Health in African PR

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In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Marie-Alix du Putter, the Founder and President of the Bluemind Foundation. She shares the personal experience that inspired the creation of Bluemind and discusses the foundation’s mission to destigmatise mental health, make care accessible, and reshape the narrative surrounding mental well-being in Africa. From the unique challenges faced by young PR professionals to innovative initiatives breaking barriers, du Putter provides insights into the current state of mental health awareness and support on the continent.

1. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind founding the Bluemind Foundation and its mission in addressing mental health stigma and providing care in Africa?

Years ago, I lost my husband in a truly tragic way. This horrific experience lead me to experience post-traumatic stress, chronic depression and anxiety. Thanks to the help of family members, friends, and trained therapist, I was able to recover. However, millions of people on the continent do not have the same chances. The Bluemind Foundation was founded in July 2021 with the aim to remedy to that situation. Our constant message is based on a strong conviction: mental health is health. With the ambition of making mental health a social, cultural, and political issue, Bluemind Foundation’s mission is to destigmatise mental health and make care accessible to everyone.

2. Mental health awareness is gaining momentum globally. How do you perceive the current state of mental health awareness and support within the public relations industry across Africa?

After three years working on this topic, it is indeniable that the global crescent awareness regarding mental health is slowly reaching Africa, and thus many actors are now gradually taking actions in regard to promoting mental health and wellbeing. However, it’s a fact that mental health Africa is in majority taboo and most people are unaware of the issues regarding the topic. Our study conducted towards young people, women and hairdressers have shown that more than a third of the people approached were unfamiliar with mental health.

3. Could you share some insights on the unique challenges that young PR professionals in Africa might face when it comes to mental health and workplace-related stress?

Young PR professionals in Africa face a unique set of mental health challenges, including:

– Limited resources and support: Many PR professionals in Africa work in environments with limited resources, both in terms of finances and access to mental health support services. This can make it difficult to address mental health concerns effectively.

– High workload and tight deadlines: The PR industry can be demanding, with tight deadlines, demanding clients, and fluctuating workloads. However, in some African countries, inadequate staffing or a lack of work-life balance policies can exacerbate the workload and stress levels for young professionals.

– High client expectations and pressure: In the fast-paced PR industry, clients often have high expectations, which can create additional stress for young professionals. The pressure to deliver results and maintain client satisfaction can take a toll on mental well-being.

– Cultural dynamics and work hierarchies: African workplaces may have strong hierarchical structures and cultural dynamics that can impact the mental health of young PR professionals. Navigating these hierarchies and managing expectations within them can be challenging and contribute to stress levels.

– Lack of mental health awareness: Mental health is often stigmatized or not given the attention it deserves in some African societies. This lack of awareness and understanding can make it challenging for young PR professionals to openly discuss their mental health concerns, leading to further isolation and difficulty in seeking appropriate help.

4. In your experience, how can fostering mental health awareness contribute to improved productivity, creativity, and overall well-being in the PR industry?

A study published by Lancet, have revealed that in total, poor mental health was estimated to cost the world economy approximately $2·5 trillion per year in poor health and reduced productivity in 2010, a cost projected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030. Others studies pointed out that most of the time lost in office (roughly 16% of working time) is due to mental health. Therefore, it’s only logical that better mental health, will boost both productivity and creativity. It’s up to the employers to seize the initiative and act accordingly.

5. The stigma surrounding mental health can be a significant barrier to open conversations. How does the Bluemind Foundation approach destigmatise mental health issues within the African context and specifically within the PR sector?

Our approaches are innovative. Through our signature program we aim to use existing trusted medium to help us reach our targets more effectively. From hairdressers to young volunteers, we believe it is easier to approach people, communities, through familiar voices.

6. Could you highlight some successful initiatives or campaigns by the Bluemind Foundation that have contributed to enhancing mental health awareness and care within the African public relations community?

Our approaches are innovative. Through our signature program we aim to use existing trusted medium to help us reach our targets more effectively. Our signature program Heal by Hair is an example. We use trained hairdressers as a medium to reach women and give them useful information regarding mental health. So far we have trained 167 hairdressers trained who will in turn help 52000 women. For us given the stigma, the lack of finances, it is important to be innovative and creative. Thus we launched last year the first pan African mental health awareness campaign. To this end, and in partnership with local players and thanks in particular to the support of JCDeceaux, the Bluemind Foundation has installed 40 billboards in the cities of Abidjan in the cities of Abidjan (6.3 million inhabitants), Douala (3.9 million inhabitants) and Yaoundé (4.1 million inhabitants).

7. How can the PR industry better support its professionals in terms of mental health education, resources, and strategies for coping with stress?

There are a few answers I can think of:

– Lead by Example: leaders and managers in the PR industry should prioritize their own mental health and well-being. By setting an example and demonstrating healthy coping strategies, they can positively influence the overall wellness culture within the industry.

– Stress Management Workshops: Organize workshops or training sessions on stress management techniques, mindfulness practices, or coping strategies. Provide practical tools and resources that professionals can incorporate into their daily routine to better manage stress.

– Regular Mental Health Check-ins: Conduct regular mental health check-ins with employees to assess their well-being, identify potential issues, and provide appropriate support. This can be done through surveys, anonymous feedback channels, or one-on-one meetings with managers or HR

At the Bluemind Foundation for instance, every member is entitled to 10 payed consultations to the mental health specialist of their choices. We also have two mandatory holidays for the whole team and we try to implement the 4 and half week model.

8. What role do you see technology and digital platforms playing in spreading awareness about mental health and providing accessible resources for PR professionals in Africa.

Like with a lot of others things, the technology and digital platforms have greatly impacted the mental health field. The most notorious advances can be the availability of information. Thanks to social media, it’s now easier to share information regarding mental health or access them. Our Program Coojali which will be on the centre of this participation is a case study on how the technological advances can be used to spread awareness on mental health.

9. Collaboration between organizations, businesses, and individuals is essential in advancing mental health initiatives. How do you envision the collaboration between the Bluemind Foundation and the PR industry, as well as other sectors, in creating a holistic approach to mental health support?

At the Bluemind Foundation, we are aware that the onerous task of destigmatising mental health on the continent cannot be carried by one party alone. That’s why we’re always open to collaborating with all stakeholders, whether state, private or other. This is the only way for us to achieve lasting results.

10. Looking ahead, what are your hopes and goals for the Bluemind Foundation’s impact on mental health advocacy and support within the African public relations landscape?

Our broad hope is to participate in the construction of a society where everyone can have quality mental health care. We do hope to have reached 10 million African by 2035.

11. In closing, what advice would you offer to young PR professionals in Africa to prioritize their mental well-being while thriving in their careers?

Three advises that I believe can help them achieving their true potential:

– Establish work-life boundaries: Set boundaries between your personal life and work. Determine working hours and stick to them, allowing yourself time to relax, unwind, and pursue hobbies outside of work. Avoid checking emails or responding to work-related matters outside of these hours. Balance is key!

– Take breaks and vacation time: Allow yourself frequent breaks during the workday to rest and recharge. Additionally, plan and take vacations to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Unplug from work completely during this time to give yourself a chance to rejuvenate. Your work will still be there and you will be more creative and productive.

– Seek professional help: Should you find your mental health suffering significantly or consistently, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Reach out to a therapist or counselor to discuss your challenges, explore coping strategies, and prioritize your mental well-being. Speaking is not an act of cowardice rather one of strength.

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