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Online counseling a great solution for better mental health

22 Sep, 2020 Mental health support

Alarmed by greater stress in your work and personal life? Working in professional communication is already very stressful – and now we are facing demanding and drawn-out COVID-19 issues as well. This era of the COVID-19 pandemic only increases everyone’s stress.

Our stressful lives are enduring more strain caused by the pandemic. Up to 80% of people in some regions have felt their mental health is affected by the coronavirus pandemic, causing them to consider seeking care, according to researchers. But people seeking mental health support are frustrated by long delays in access to support from traditional counseling services due to lockdowns and physical distancing.

Mental health not such a taboo topic these days

At least societal culture is changing to a more open approach towards dealing with mental health problems. As recently as 11 years ago, an article in The Guardian news website in 2009 was headed “Mental health is strongest taboo, says research”:

In a survey of 2,000 people across Britain, almost 30% said they would find it difficult to admit publicly to having a mental illness, compared with 20% who said they would have difficulty coming out as gay…the survey also found that admitting to a mental health condition was deemed harder than confessing to having a drink problem or going bankrupt.

Psychologists struggle to meet demand

The rush for psychology services in many countries has seen waiting times triple in some areas, with typical providers saying they are fully booked until 2021. People usually want to be seen immediately, which puts service providers under great pressure, and if current clients have to reschedule appointments, the waiting list is about 6 weeks long, which is totally unacceptable to clients with pressing psychological needs.

One positive result of shortages in available face-to-face help has been the dramatic growth in online counseling. For instance, BetterHelp is a vast and highly successful online portal providing direct-to-consumer access to a range of behavioral health services. More than 3,000 therapists are accredited with the Silicon Valley-based firm. The online counseling and therapy services are provided through web-based interaction as well as phone and text communication for anyone around the world.

Professional communication very stressful

The growth in access to online counseling provides a great opportunity for professional communicators to find support to help them cope. Annual job surveys consistently find that the positions of Public Relations Executive and Event Coordinator are in the top 10 most stressful US jobs, including the latest CareerCast jobs report in 2019. Around 200 occupations were assessed according to 11 different factors.

The biggest cause of job stress for comms pros? Dealing with frequent, hard deadlines. Apart from dangerous jobs like being in the military (1st position), firefighter (2nd) or police (4th), five of the top 10 most stressful jobs involve working to tight deadlines – airline pilot (3rd),  broadcaster (5th), event coordinator (6th), news reporter (7th), and public relations executive (8th).

Industry surveys of the public relations profession also point to stress as a contributing factor to poorer mental health wellbeing, according to a 2019 Public Relations and Communications Association UK survey. US figures are likely to be comparable.

The survey found that while 62% of UK workers had struggled with their mental health in the previous 12 months, 89% of PR professionals surveyed said they had to struggle with their mental wellbeing. Almost a third (31%) of PR professionals said they found their job very stressful, compared with just 19% of UK workers nationally:

Source: 2019 PRCA UK survey.

Stress consistently high in PR over time

Job stress continues to be a major factor in the communication profession over time. For instance, the 2015 CIPR State of the UK Profession research survey found the number of pros reporting themselves as “extremely or very stressed” grew larger as respondents took on more responsibility (until they got to the top – and presumably delegated some of that stress down the line…):

  • 33% Non-manager
  • 42% Manager
  • 55% Head of Communications/Associate Director
  • 48% Director/Partner/MD/Owner

Main barriers to opening up

Over half (54%) of the PRCA respondents in 2019 said they had not told their employer they were struggling with their mental health. The biggest reasons for this were: (1) not feeling it was necessary (35%), (2) thinking it might jeopardize their career (28%), which was higher than the national average of 19%, and (3) feeling their employer wouldn’t be able to help (24%).

When asked why they didn’t tell their employer they were struggling with their mental health, many kept it to themselves because they didn’t want to be perceived as weak or bad at their job. Some also said they didn’t want to burden others with their workload if they took time off, while others didn’t feel that telling their manager would lead to any change.

PRSA Health Academy Section

The PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) has established a Health Academy Section “for members who serve the health industry.” “With nearly 900 members, this specialized community has access to the latest best practices and industry trends.” It’s not clear whether personal mental health counseling is available or even referred via the PRSA, but regardless, the first step would be to join the PRSA as a full member.

Online counseling is a big breakthrough

Getting help from a counselor (spelt as ‘counsellor’ in countries with language based on UK English) is an excellent option with potential long-term benefits leading to self-improvement and solving a problem like stress, especially when wanting to keep your problem confidential. A mental health counselor advises you about how to progress out of your problem – to help you understand your options and how to cope if you find yourself turning to alcohol or prescribed / illegal drugs when feeling emotional.

Due to the dramatic increase in mental health problems in recent years, online mental health support is helping to meet with the growing demand. Some people may question how useful online counseling can be when they have seen how Zoom meetings depersonalize contact between people.

However, research consistently finds online counseling to actually be more effective or at least as effective as face-to-face counseling. For instance, the National Library of Medicine at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the world’s foremost medical research centers, has published many rigorous academic research articles reporting on the effectiveness of online counseling. For instance, articles published in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, February 2019, April 2019, February 2020, June 2020 as well as another one in June 2020, all confirm the effectiveness of online counseling.

Why would you try online mental health counseling?

People generally seek online counseling for five main reasons:

  1. Not getting the help that’s needed. About 25% of counseling patients suffer from depression, according to the American Psychological Association. However, medical doctors recognize this in less than 30% of patients who come to them. And there are many other reasons for needing psychological support, such as stress and anxiety-related disorders. This means many people are missing out on the counseling support they need. Many medical doctors merely prescribe medications, which address effects more than causes of these mental responses.
  1. Counseling treats mental illness. In response to common life challenges, many people who are struggling recognize the value of counseling and consult a counselor, face-to-face or online. Counseling is an excellent way to treat chronic mental illness.
  1. Lack of finance. Many people are financially pressed for various reasons including lack of consistent income, poverty, compulsive spending, gambling addiction, substance abuse or other mental health issues. Managing money or related matters is a daily problem for them. Face-to-face counseling is expensive, and so often online therapy could be a more affordable option.
  1. A counselor can help in a crisis. A counselor can help people who have serious mental health problems. Seeing a counselor is a safe and fully confidential opportunity to share feelings they feel they can’t share otherwise. A counselor is dedicated to helping people get to a place of emotional wellness and stability.
  1. Online counseling is more convenient. Most people are accustomed to using technology to access services. For instance, Zoom is the indispensable app for remote meetings. Similarly, counseling services have been readily available online for the past decade. Such online services offer many ways to access counselors. One big advantage: You don’t have to spend time traveling to a session, you have quick access to a counselor, and you don’t have to worry about COVID lockdowns or physical distancing.
When should I see a counselor?

You should see a counselor for individual therapy, family therapy, or couples therapy if you need advice support or guidance related to mental health issues, substance abuse and addiction issues, or if you need general life advice from a licensed professional. You can easily establish a good counseling relationship.

I will discuss more about the details and benefits of online mental health counseling in a follow-up article.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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