Unmute yourself is a rallying cry that I've lent my voice to: Nikhil Dey

October 10, 2020 was World Mental Health Day. Radha Radhakrishnan, Anchor of Mrigashira podcast, spoke to Nikhil Dey, Vice-Chair, Weber Shandwick India on mental health and wellness in PR and Communications sector. You can listen to the podcast here

Q: Do PR agencies across the board take mental health issues and stress seriously?

Yes, the world is taking mental health seriously right now. And definitely, the agency ecosystem is paying much attention. This pandemic has put mental health on the map in a significant way. But I think that's just the beginning. The wheels are turning. Now, what do we do with it? Where do we go from here? Because paying lip service to it is not enough. I want to look at mental health not in the illness zone, but the wellness zone. There is so much you can do to remain mentally healthy and mentally agile. And I think in our industry that is so important because we are a hotbed of creativity. Our job is about bringing our creative best to bear on whatever it is that we want to communicate. When you are mentally well, your creativity flows. When you're anxious and fearful and not in a great space, you're not going to bring your A-game to work.

Q: How do you mentor young executives who enter the profession to handle all the stress the job throws at them?

One of the steps that I've been catalytic in is working with the Public Relations Consultants Association of India. I have volunteered to be a champion of this topic on behalf of the industry. We have done a bunch of things at an industry level. For example, we began a campaign called to talk to a friend, which then evolved in to talk to a coach.

I don't pretend to be a qualified mental health expert. I look at myself and how I dealt with this lockdown. What anxiety I went through in the initial phases. I was wearing this hero hat. I'm good. I'm super, I'm, I'm on top of it. You know, the good boss, the good father, the great husband. Yeah, but somewhere around two months into it. And I had put everything else on pause. I had a session with my coach because I was anything but okay. I was dealing with much anxiety, much fear, many problems, and I wasn't accepting it. She helped me give it a name, 'name it to tame it.' It is not my phrase; it is a phrase by Dr Dan Siegel. The minute I can name my anxiety, my fear, tension, my stress, my worry, it's the beginning of accepting I have this problem. 

So, I often tell people awareness and acceptance of how you're feeling and then having the courage, the conviction to say that it's okay not to be okay and share it that with family. We are so supportive of friends, family colleagues, when they have a physical ailment, say a cut or a broken bone. But when the cut happens in your head, nobody sees it. And you put on this brave front. So, awareness is a big first step.

I think companies in India have wonderful Employee Assistance Programs. But there is a stigma to use it. It should not be seen as a sign of weakness. I actually see it as a sign of strength. And when a leader takes that stance, it normalizes it. When I am comfortable talking about it, I have found the tools to cope it; we are moving well into the zone of being mentally well. I am keen to get more and more people onto that boat.

Q: When more senior people in the industry come together to address it, it is reassuring for people to open up… 

Anybody who opens and has the courage and the comfort to talk about it is going to be one more drop in that ocean. One more person who unmutes... One more person who is part of the solution. I understand that it's easy to talk about. But there is a huge worry that if I tell my boss, or if my company finds out, what will they think? Will they look at me differently? But that doesn't mean you don't go in search of a solution. If you're not confident seeking help from your immediate circle, go outside of it. But don't bottle it up, don't hold it in, find a way to find a solution.

Q: What is that one message you would like to give to fellow professionals?

So, I think unmute yourself is a rallying cry that I've lent my voice to. And I would ask everyone who has heard this, whom it is touched in any way to see what they can do. Can you unmute yourself? Can you become a champion, at least an enabler, a catalyst for making the stigma of mental health in the workplace go away, by opening up yourself by talking by allowing space for this conversation to build? The ideas and the creative energies of the PR industry are fantastic. If one can do this, the specifics and the tactics will flow.

(Mirgashira is a podcast for Indian PR and Communication professionals anchored by Radha Radhakrishnan. To listen to all episodes visit https://www.digitales.co.in/industry-insights/mrigashira-podcast/ )



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