How are you?
It’s a question that you probably answer multiple times a day. And most of us answer without really thinking about it.
The truth is that many of us are not doing well — including those of us in the comms industry. In this episode, we’ll look at some data that reflects how the particular stresses of our sector are manifesting for communications professionals. We’ll explore the pervasive failures of mental healthcare systems (We’ll try to keep it light). And, why the state of your mental health isn’t a reflection on you.
To help breakdown the shame and stigma around mental health, two brave communicators have agreed to let us share their stories with you:
First, we’ll be talking to Haleigh Brouillette, Senior Communications Manager at Hudl. Hailey speaks about the evolution of stress in her nine-year role at the company, and shares a personal story about how company culture can respond with grace during times of personal loss.
We’ll also chat with Tangia Renee Estrada, co-founder of BIPOC Podcast Creators and veteran communications professional, about the stresses she faced and how she finally got help with her burnout.
So listen in and tell us how you really feel.
Kyla Sims: How do you know that you're burning out?
Tangia Renee: This weird depression comes over me where I just feel this numbness taking over. It's just like an indifference where I can't reach an emotional piece of me that feels anything at all. It just feels like numbness.
Kyla Sims: You are listening to Infernal Communication brought to you by Staffbase. I'm your host, Kyla Sims. Let's start with a question, a question that you've probably already answered at least three times today. A question that we ask absentmindedly without ever really listening to the answer. How are you? We know people are struggling and we have data that people in the comms industry are struggling in measurable ways. If you follow this podcast, you may remember from our episode about going viral that I am a passionate mental health advocate, but the truth is the mental health conversation really tick me off.
Most " conversations" about mental health are chock full of pointless platitudes and unhelpful advice that show just how deeply misunderstood this issue is. The reality of the mental health crisis is so much more complicated than any of us can really wrap our head around. We can self- care all we want, but that's not going to change the rising cost of living or how the social media tools we use are designed to fuel outrage and get us addicted to hating ourselves and each other.
Self- care isn't going to dismantle systemic oppression or stop war or climate change. Our systems are failing. There's an obvious and tragic lack of mental healthcare education and access. Mental healthcare is expensive and not usually covered by even socialized healthcare systems. Wait lists for low cost counsellors can be years long.
Okay, now that I'm done ruining your day, the point I'm trying to make is that if you're struggling, that's not all on you. It's actually a perfectly reasonable and warranted response to the state of our world, and I know there are a lot of you out there who are struggling. A recent study from the Center for Strategic Communication Excellence showed that 48% of PR and comms professionals have considered leaving the profession due to the strain it's put on their mental health.
Does that sound like you? If it does, I want you to know that in this episode, we're not going to tell you to just start meditating and go for walks on your lunch breaks. Instead, we're going to ask how do you really feel, and we're going to hold space for the stories and struggles that our brave guests are going to share because one of the most helpful but also annoying things about mental health is that you can't get better unless you talk about it. So today we've got two brave communicators who agree to let us share their stories for this episode. I think their stories are really going to resonate with you and might just help you feel a little less alone in your struggle.
Haleigh Brouillette: You're in Canada, right?
Kyla Sims: I'm in Canada. I'm in Vancouver, which is fine. It's like still dark out. First we'll be talking to Haleigh Brouillette.
Haleigh Brouillette: I'm the senior communications manager at a company called Hudl. We're a software company based out of Lincoln, Nebraska, and we build software for sports teams, major league sports teams, all the way down to your micro soccer, your kids that are just getting started. Made my way into the communications role as the company scaled and grew, I got my degree in textiles. So naturally moving into communications at a sports software company-
Kyla Sims: What a pivot.
Haleigh Brouillette: Made a lot of sense.
Kyla Sims: So you've been at Hudl for nine years, which is a long time. Over that time, has the amount of stress you have encountered at work changed?
Haleigh Brouillette: The type of stress has changed. When I was in support, that was a whole different type of stress. When you're on the phone with a coach and their product isn't working and it's 5 o'clock kickoff time on Friday night, that's a different type of stress from planning the board meeting and making sure all of your financials are correct. There's always those highs and lows though.
Kyla Sims: So did it change over the pandemic, the amount of stress that was happening for you?
Haleigh Brouillette: Yes. And what a different kind of stress like I always joke with my team, we're not saving lives. Everything we do, it's going to be okay. But then the pandemic hit and you're like, we're kind of saving lives but it's a little bit different, and because we're global, timing was really important. Things would be happening where it's like you can't log off at 10 o'clock at night because somebody is online and their government just changed regulations and you have to adapt to it. That was very energizing because you felt how important and critical communications was. I felt a lot of purpose in those moments.
Kyla Sims: I think that we can all relate to going through the stress of a global pandemic. There are some stressors and situations that are pretty universal, but the thing about mental health is that it's a personal journey and our lives and our stories are unique to us. Our lives are unpredictable and bring with them stressors that we could never have imagined. In 2022, Haleigh and her partner faced a harrowing circumstance that no one wants to imagine happening to them.
This year something particularly stressful happened to you. Can you take us through what happened?
Haleigh Brouillette: Yeah. Back in April, I miscarried a pregnancy and I want to take a step too, and I recognize this can be a really difficult topic for people to speak to. Anyone who's listening to this, if it's too tender to hear, skip ahead. You don't have to listen to this part. I'm not going to go into details on it much. So in April, I miscarried an early pregnancy and it was pretty traumatic and it actually ended up in me needing surgery. So as you can imagine, that's a pretty stressful, big event. And one thing I didn't realize about miscarriage before having gone through it is that it's not a one- time really bad day. So in my situation in particular, it was, yeah, I had ironically messaged my manager the week prior and said like, hey, I'm expecting, I'm really excited about it. Can't wait to let you know more. And then not. But a week later I messaged him and said, I just had a really bad appointment. Here's what happened. I'm logging off for a little while.
Kyla Sims: Thank you for sharing with us. That's really tough. Were you initially nervous about sharing the news with your team?
Haleigh Brouillette: No actually.
Kyla Sims: That's really nice.
Haleigh Brouillette: Yeah. Never in my experience have I brought something up and felt unsupported. My manager was awesome. His name's Anthony. He told me, do whatever you need to do. You don't even need to check in if you want to work because it's distracting, that's awesome. If you don't want to work because you just need to curl up on the couch, that's also awesome. Don't worry about anything. We've got you covered.
And at the time, my team was also planning our biggest event of the year where we were bringing nearly a thousand employees to our headquarters, and this was about six weeks before that event was taking place. So to hear, take the time to be you and to struggle not only with the physicality of what this means, but also mentally what this is going to mean. It just was so meaningful and so impactful for me. These first moments where you're telling people who were originally excited for you and they're responding with such genuine care and treating me like someone would just in non- work life, that just made all the difference in those moments. In those moments before you've told your best friend or your parents or your siblings and that that's something that I'll remember forever.
I had no trepidation that my manager was going to react the way that he reacted. I had no doubt in my mind that my team was going to do whatever they felt like they needed to do to support me.
Kyla Sims: What kind of things were in place at your company for support after you had that happen?
Haleigh Brouillette: Yeah, so I was actually dealing with postpartum depression at the time as well. So I had used our company's employee assistant program where we had access to six free sessions with a licensed therapist. So I had just reached out to that therapist and had an appointment scheduled for Monday. I found out I miscarried Thursday prior. So I was so fortunate to have a professional I could talk to within days and it wasn't going to cost me anything, and I knew that I would be supported up through those next six sessions and really get on a solid footing before leaning on our insurance to then cover that. My company also covers insurance for all employees, so that was a really important tactical way my company helped me.
We also have employee resource groups. We have a, it's called Her Hudl, ERG. And at the time, they were researching what type of fertility benefits might work for Hudl and I reached out and said, hey, this is what's happening to me. If you want to talk about my experience or you want to understand the types of resources that have been beneficial, I would love to do that. And it just felt good to have that outlet and to know someone was listening and someone was wanting to make sure other women at Hudl had the same experience I had was really important to me. But then just having the culture of treating one another like people first and coworkers second is really what made the biggest difference for me.
Kyla Sims: Yeah. Because there's a little bit of a conflict there where it's like, is it about personal responsibility with people regarding their mental health and not the companies? There does seem to be sort of a weird tension when it comes to mental health support in companies.
Haleigh Brouillette: First off, if your employees are burnt out and if it's a mental health issue, they're not putting forth their best anyways. So you can't separate the two. You can't say your home life is difficult, but I expect you to perform at work. It's not realistic. I can't turn off and be like, I didn't just have a miscarriage. Let's knock out some communications. It doesn't happen that way. The most impactful thing you can do is look at your culture. Are you starting from a leadership level of treating people like humans? Are you responding to the burnout and to the things that are happening in your employee's lives the same way you would respond to your sister? Are you responding with do what you need to do? Are you taking things off their plate? Because again, they're going to be better employees if they can be their whole selves at work.
Kyla Sims: Internal comms is predominantly women, so odds are someone who's listening to this episode right now has gone through what you've gone through. Do you have anything that you would like to share with them?
Haleigh Brouillette: I'm so sorry that you have been through this. If you are at the same point I'm at, I would say it gets easier. It doesn't go away. I really hope that you've taken the time for yourself and know that it's okay to feel whatever feelings you have about it. I hope that you've reached out to people in your network. I hope you found the support that you need. And if you have it, please know you deserve it. It's out there and you don't have to be alone in it. If you are feeling alone-
Kyla Sims: That's really nice.
Haleigh Brouillette: Yeah, it's not okay, but it will be okay.
Kyla Sims: Yeah. It doesn't just have to be on you to getting out of the cycle of burnout. Your company can do a lot for you, and we as communicators can also take charge of that and we can be a leader in that space. You're the one who is talking to your full company. What are the words you're using? And if people can recognize that in you, and if you can make a difference in one person's life that's worth it, you have such a unique position as a communicator to be able to start change.
Haleigh Brouillette: And there's easy things. You don't need a budget to be nice to someone, so you can just do it.
Kyla Sims: I love that. That's a quote for the episode. You don't need a budget to be nice to someone, I love it.
Haleigh Brouillette: It's free. You can just do it.
Kyla Sims: You're listening to Infernal Communication, a podcast brought to you by Staffbase where we dive into the deeper conversations happening behind some of the biggest comms problems and puzzles that impact organizations and beyond. If you're enjoying the show so far, make sure you follow us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you like to listen. If you like the show and you want me to keep my job, please leave us a review and let us know what you think. You can also check out the show on our website by going to infernocommunication. com.
One of the most annoying things about managing our mental health is that it can't really be helped or managed without an honest conversation about what's going on. One person who isn't afraid to have an honest conversation about how she really feels is our guest, Tangia Renee.
Tangia Renee: Is lighting okay? I went with natural light, but I could like turn on.
Kyla Sims: Your lighting is great. When you came in, I was like damn. Tangia does a lot. She's founded at least five companies in multiple industries. She's been a campaign consultant, an organizer.
Tangia Renee: That did all of the crisis comms that did all of the media training and everything-
Kyla Sims: Served on board of directors, and she sunk her teeth into her own PR and communications consultancy. Nowadays, she's busy being the co- founder of BIPOC Podcast Creators, an organization that connects podcast creators of colour with opportunities in the industry. All while she hosts the successful That's What She Did Podcast. So let's make a list of the things you don't do.
First, I want to talk about how we really feel. So earlier this year, the Center for Strategic Communication Excellence, CSCE, put out a study called the State of Mental Wellbeing in the communication profession. So in the study, there's a lot of interesting data. I'll link it on our page so you can find it. In the study, one stat was particularly unsettling. It said that 48%, that's nearly half of communication and PR professionals have considered leaving the profession because of their mental wellbeing. So first, does that stat actually surprise you?
Tangia Renee: No, that tracks, it tracks. It can be very stressful, what are the different elements of the work you're doing. I can tell you from when I did campaigning, when you're a campaign director, you are in charge of the majority of the comms, so you have to handle it all. It becomes very stressful. A lot is riding on your shoulders in many roles. So if you're an in- house comms person, you might be responsible for not just the marketing messaging and the brand management, the crisis communications, the internal comms within the team, anything that goes wrong within customer service, communicating those messages out, there can be so many layers of things coming at you at one time. Yeah, it can be quite overwhelming, especially if you don't have help and a lot of comms people don't.
Kyla Sims: Yeah. One of the things that surprised me about this report was it was done over the pandemic. So it seems intuitive though. Over the pandemic, people who were in communications have had to communicate some really hard complicated things. They've had to combat misinformation. Organizational communicators have had to try and keep people safe and communicate layoffs. It's just been one thing after another. But it sounds like you're saying that this is par for the course. It was always kind of stressful.
Tangia Renee: Oh, always. There's a study out there and I cannot remember off the top of my head, and it's the one where they do what are the most stressful jobs in America? They do this every few years. Publicist is always in the top 10 of that list. No matter what's happening in the world, it's always up there. So you're comms people, right? So somebody might not be the official title of a publicist, but if you're in comms, that's what you're doing. The communicating of the message is falls on your shoulders and anything goes wrong. I mean, somebody could have died, there could have been somebody arrested within your organization, something happened on social media and you have to respond quickly and there's so much pressure to get it right. I mean, just think of Pepsi, that infamous Pepsi commercial with one of the Jenners, I don't remember which one, one of the Jenners, and it was like-
Kyla Sims: The tall one. They're mostly tall. I was going to say the tall one, but I think they're all kind of tall.
Tangia Renee: But whoever was managing that message probably got fired, honestly. That was a huge thing that it was such a misfire and there was probably one person that got fired even though it probably wasn't their fault. It was an entire team that green lit that and it went through various stages of green lighting and vetting before it actually made it to an actual commercial that people were like, what the heck is this?
Kyla Sims: So I do want to get into your experience with burnout. Take us through that experience.
Tangia Renee: The first time that I experienced real true burnout that actually frightened me was around 2013 ish and I was doing campaigns then. I had just finished my master's degree as well. So I was doing all of this work and that was the time that I got really sick. I was getting a respiratory infection over and over and over again, and I was breaking out hives on my hands and feet, and I had gained a lot of weight and I couldn't figure out why, because my habits hadn't really changed. I went to a bunch of doctors and nobody could help me. They were basically telling me it was all in my head, and I was like, okay, it's not helpful. The hives are not in my head. Other people can see them.
I eventually end up in this doctor's office, super old school, and I was like, oh, great. This is another doctor's going to tell me that it's all in my head. And he looks at me, looks at my chart, and he goes, you know what the problem is here? And he goes you, he said you, you are the problem. You're stressed. He said, you need a vacation. He was like, I could give you pills, but what you need is a vacation. You work too much. Look, the hives are going to go away when you get some rest. The weight is going to go down when you start taking better care of yourself. And he was like, you're too stressed. And it just sort of stopped me in my tracks. I was shocked because no one had even suggested to me at that point, any of the doctors that maybe I was just stressed and maybe I needed to take a break. So I go home, I tell my husband about it and he was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Finally, somebody is just talking sense to you.
Kyla Sims: What is your advice for folks in comms when it comes to protecting and maintaining their mental health?
Tangia Renee: Well, you can't live for your work. And I realize it's really hard not to get sucked into whatever is happening. There's always some kind of drama, there's always some kind of urgent thing, but you really need to think about is it urgent? Is it really? A lot of what you deal with isn't that urgent. It just feels urgent because the clients or the whatever is making it feel that way. So I think what you have to do is you have to create some real boundaries for yourself, or it has to be like, okay, unless the world is on fire, unless the brand is about to completely fall apart, I'm not taking those calls after a certain time or having strict boundaries around your time off when it comes to the weekend, you're with your family and that's that. And scheduling time for vacations way out in advance.
I already know in July I'm taking a long vacation and I've told everybody like, okay, don't worry, you're going to be supported. I'll have someone from the team take care of you, but I will not be available. And it helps, I think to say that to people like, I will not be available. Having those kind of boundaries is what you really need to think about, what is going to make you happy in your life and make you feel good and help you be in a good place with your work and start your year planning off with those things first. That's how I do it now. So at the end of the year, I'm looking at the year ahead and planning things and I'm going, okay, first thing's first. What are the dates that I know I need to block out from my family? Even if it's tentative, like I don't need to have it confirmed. Block all of that stuff out first and then plan your work around it.
Kyla Sims: I think both of the stories shared by our guests today raise some interesting points. Take Haleigh for example. She works with people who support her. And for an organization that takes care of its people, talking about her mental health has allowed her to get the care that she needs and help others who are also struggling. Even in Tangia's story, the first step in improving her mental health was talking about it, but talking about it isn't always easy or straightforward. If you don't feel safe to talk about your mental health at work, that's perfectly reasonable because mental health is still very stigmatized in our society. For example, being depressed doesn't make you a mass shooter and being bipolar doesn't make you a bigot. But that's the message that our media is often sending and therein lies the problem my friends. We can't say that we need to destigmatize talking about our mental health, but then use mental illness as a way to explain bad behaviour or violence.
We can't say reach out and get help when we aren't adequately funding or providing access to the right care. We can't say be more open about your mental health if we don't have the internal support or emotional intelligence at our organizations. It's frustrating, but it is changing, and you can help first try reflecting on how you're really feeling because that's half the battle. Do you have the support of your organization and colleagues? Are you taking on too much? How can you show others you are a safe person to confide in? And who are the people in your life that you can talk to? Regardless of your answers to these questions, whatever you're feeling, I want you to know it's valid. You have a tough job, and it is a wild world out there. It's reasonable for anyone to be having a tough time and you are not alone.
But just because your feelings are not unique doesn't mean you don't deserve the support that you need. And just because some folks may have it worse than you, doesn't mean your problems aren't worth addressing. And just because talking about your mental health can be scary and complicated, doesn't mean that you should suffer in silence.
Now, if this episode brought up some feelings for you that's understandable, there are professionals and people who care who can help. If you or someone you know is in crisis or contemplating ending their life, please seek medical assistance immediately. There are some great resources from the 988 Suicide, Crisis and Prevention Hotline, which is available to everyone across the United States by just dialing 988. Or you can visit their website at 988lifeline. org. If you're in Canada, there's a resource called talksuicide. ca. With mental health resources and a hotline, you can access 24/ 7 at 1- 833- 456- 4566. And if it's an emergency, please call 911 or your local emergency provider right away.
Okay, that was pretty heavy. To lighten the mood, here's some hashtag relatable content that will hopefully make you giggle. I present to you mercilessly Honest Mondays.
Alphonzo: Hey, how was your weekend?
Beto: Oh, great.
Alphonzo: That's great.
Charlize: Hey, are you two ready for this presentation?
Evelyn: Let's get them.
Ian: How do you feel today?
Hillary: Never better, man. Great.
Charlize: Really great.
Kyla Sims: What might it be like if we were all a little more honest about how we're feeling on Monday morning?
Alphonzo: Hey, how was your weekend?
Beto: I drank. Forget about this hell hall and then ate a bucket of chicken standing in front of my open refrigerator.
Charlize: Are you two ready for this presentation?
Charlize: Because Mama is winging this pitch
Kyla Sims: Today. Our guests were Haleigh Brouillette, the senior communications manager at Hudl. Tangia Renee, co- founder of BIPOC Podcast Creators and PR consultant. I'm Kyla Sims, and this is Infernal Communication, brought to you by Staffbase with production support from Jar Audio. Join us next time when we dive into how to protect yourself and others. When you are in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news.
Janet Stovall: The speech writers in a unique position, they got to protect the audience. So you have to balance that space between what the speaker wants to talk about and cares about what the audience needs to hear, and bringing those together so that there's some behaviour change or mind change or thought change or something. So that's sort of a tricky space.
Kyla Sims: Don't forget to hit Follow on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your shows. And if you like today's episode, leave us a review. We would love to know what you think. Until then, thanks for listening.