Is there a mental health crisis in social media work?

- March 21, 2023 5 MIN READ
Tired woman with head in hands at desk

Going days without eating. Constant stress and rumination about work. The tightness in one’s chest as your phone buzzes over and over in the wee morning hours; a welling up of guilt as you let it go to voicemail. So much for a job that so many think adds up to ‘scrolling through Facebook all day’. Such is the life of a social media manager or strategist in the modern world, writes Tom Valcanis.

Gone are the days where you leave work at work. Work comes with you, especially if you are creating or curating content for smartphones, using smartphones.

If you feel a bit icky ‘doomscrolling‘ – constantly scrolling through negative news or social media posts – imagine doing it upwards of eight, ten, twelve hours a day as part of your profession. Social media and content strategy, content creation, creative briefing, copywriting, client liaison, insight reporting, and ambassador management are all part of being a ‘social Swiss army knife’.

Couple this with the realisation your job is built atop ever-shifting sands – the constantly changing algorithm – and what worked yesterday may not work today; despite having KPIs and metrics to fulfil.

Mental health impacts of social media management

With social media being such a vital part of digital marketing, it’s no wonder that over a third of marketers and advertisers experience depression and anxiety.

“A few years ago, during lockdown, things got pretty bad,” says Khiara Elliott, a social strategist. “I was working on a major brand relaunch that had me at my laptop around the clock. I actually missed out on picking up the keys to my first house because of my workload; my partner had to go alone.

“I wasn’t really eating, maybe a banana a day if I was lucky. I felt that this campaign was the most important thing happening at that time, because it was huge for my clients. Pair that with not being able to do anything outside of work hours and it’s easy to see how my mental health took a back seat.

“It wasn’t until my boss called me to check in that I absolutely lost it and explained how bad things were, and my company suggested I take mental health leave.”

woman scrolling phone in bed at night

Freelance social media strategist Tahlia Pritchard’s mental health also suffered. She says that working in social media chipped away at her mental health, day by day. At her previous workplace, there was no mental health support and workers left in droves.

“There’s the common saying of ‘don’t read the comments’ if you’re a writer or journo, but for a lot of us, that’s part of the job in these hybrid roles so it’s impossible not to. While it’s easy enough to know it’s not personal, there will be instances where some social media users take things too far and try to escalate a situation — finding your email, personal social accounts, whatever it may be, to take things a step too far to get their opinion across.

“For most people in the social media field, it feels impossible to have a clean break from the pressures of the job.”

With all these pressures as well as threats against one’s personal safety, is there any wonder why people who work in social media are reporting their mental health is in decline?

Supporting the mental health of social media workers

Dr. Joe Isaak, a psychologist who works and trains global organisations in social media, says that organisations need to ensure that social media managers – especially those in smaller organisations – are better supported to reverse this worrying trend.

“Social media people are often working in the background and nobody’s recognising them. They feel, from a mental health perspective, that they are soldiers fighting a battle and no one is acknowledging they are all in a war.”

Dr. Isaak says that promoting and protecting mental health should be a consideration right from the recruitment stage. “One person shouldn’t be doing everything. Recruiters need to know if they have the right personality for the job. Technical skills will change over time; that’s just the nature of the business.”

Tahlia agrees. “I think a lot of media companies now have an attitude that all people have to be multi-skilled and able to do everything and this has led to great under-resourcing and pressure on people like journalists, who studied a specific area and now have been pushed into following social media trends to make their brands or sites have a greater presence. There are social media experts for a reason, and they should be hired!”

social media strategy

Dr Isaak also says that social media managers need a just reward, too. “Managers also need to revisit salaries automatically instead of [employees] approaching you. With inflation and everything, they will feel appreciated. They do work for it – they’re working all the time.”

Fortunately for Khiara, her workplace provided free psychiatry sessions during the pandemic and mental health upskilling.

“After talking to my boss, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety, severe stress, depression, and feelings of isolation. I’m very lucky to work for a company that takes employee mental health seriously. I actually became a qualified Mental Health First Aider through a program my company offered. It was taught by a certified psychologist and went through all the symptoms of mental health decline in the workplace, as well as action plans on how to approach those who may be suffering.”

Seek help to build coping strategies

Tahlia says that seeking professional help is important. From there, boundaries need to be established – from within and without.

“I went to a psychologist for a good year or so, who ended up diagnosing me with burnout and helped me create stronger boundaries I could keep in place for my workplace. I wouldn’t have survived as long as I did in the media industry without her help.”

These boundaries included not replying to emails or Slack messages after hours, and ignoring late night phone calls from clients.

As for other coping strategies, Joe says that telling social media people – especially soloists – to “smell the roses and take a walk every 45 minutes” isn’t practical. “Using automation to eliminate some of the mundane tasks or getting some kind of assistant can help. Setting up a workflow. Realising these people can’t do all these things alone. Investing in training and support. This can go a long way.”

Tahlia, especially as someone who’s recently gone freelance, has gained wisdom from her experiences.

“I think the separation of knowing a certain job isn’t your full-time job or responsibility already takes a weight off your shoulders. It’s easy to log on and off and have that boundary in place. I also think if the job is detrimental to your mental health, it’s not your responsibility and there’s no use pushing through it for the sake of it.

“I cannot stress how important it is to just log off sometimes.”

If you’re in need of mental health support, check out these Australian free mental health support services:

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