The guilt from being signed off work is adding to my mental health issues

‘I’m signing you off work for two weeks’. 

As soon as my GP had written the note to my manager, I felt a huge sense of relief. 

Up until that moment I had found myself falling out of bed 10 minutes before the start of my shift at my call centre job, before crawling back into it as soon as the working day was done. 

Outside of work, I – like many others – was feeling the mental health impacts of the pandemic and the isolation of lockdown. And during my 9-5 the verbal abuse of customers, high call volumes and the pressure of targets were starting to wear me down. 

But the relief of receiving the note quickly subsided into worry. Part of me wanted to take the time to relax, work out a plan for what I wanted to do and find some techniques to best help me cope. 

The other part demanded I end my sick note early and slap myself out of the funk of despair. 

It felt like a constant tug of war between the two, listing the pros and cons of both scenarios over and over in my head. 

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. 

I knew how I was feeling wasn’t normal and that time off work would only help – but I still felt extremely guilty. I have found that one of the hardest parts of being signed off with a sick note is the feeling of letting others down.

I’ve lived with varying symptoms of anxiety and depression – from low moods to severe panic attacks – from a very young age. Image credit: Jack Wynn.


Initially, when I first delivered the news to my colleagues, I could barely get the words out. My manager was surprised, as they noted my positive character, but supportive – as were my other colleagues. 

Yet I knew that by not being there, other members of my team would have to pick up some of the slack until my return. 

I felt massive guilt at the thought of letting people down. In these incredibly challenging times, I wanted to be considered a strong character of support to my friends and colleagues. 

When I compared my depression to the severity of what frontline workers have been facing since the pandemic started, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed. 

I despise being seen as weak – even though I know mental illness doesn’t mean you are less strong. 

The first couple of weeks, I spent a lot of time hiding under a blanket on the sofa watching real crime Netflix documentaries, occasionally mustering the energy to go to the local shop and trying not to bump into anyone I knew in fear of having to make small talk.

It’s upsetting to know that I’m not alone in reaching a crisis point. Forecasting by the Centre for Mental Health last October predicts that up to 10million people in England will require either additional or new mental health support as a result of the pandemic. 

The Office for National Statistics found 69% of the UK adult population are worried how the pandemic will affect their lives, with 56% feeling anxious or stressed.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health

I’ve since had a few catch up calls with my manager and I’m now approaching my seventh week of being signed off – on my third note – and am still terrified of going back.

I’m mentally preparing by reminding myself there will be better opportunities to come. During the time off I’ve made some improvement with my overall mood with the help of some telephone counselling, short daily walks and even doing activities I wouldn’t normally have much time for, such as reading.

I’ve also been able to reflect on happier times and make more of an effort to keep in touch with friends and family members I have not been able to see since the beginning of the pandemic.

I’ve since learned that no-one should feel guilty about taking the time they need to work on their mental health.

To keep pushing through and suffering in silence at work is certainly not the answer. Not only will it affect your performance, but you will begin to destroy relationships with your colleagues as you become unapproachable.

The pandemic has brought with it so much uncertainty that it feels as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I can no longer just rely on stronger medication, a few days completely shut off from the outside world, and more rest to get me through this challenging time.

Don’t be afraid to contact your GP for advice. Despite the evident strain on the NHS, they are there to listen and offer the best help.

But being signed off has taught me that my mental health has to be my top priority. I shouldn’t feel guilty about putting myself first – no one should.

Article originally published here

Acne influencers on why they would never change their spots

Whether it’s the newly coined ‘maskne’ that is the cause of your recent breakout, or a long history with hormonal spots originating from your teenage years, acne continues to be a prevalent discussion in our society.

The mental health side effects are also sobering. A 2019 study by E45 found 10 million people in the UK have suffered with mental health issues as a result. 

However, the #acnepositivity movement is continuing to try to change the way we look at acne and has empowered those with the condition to no longer hide behind a mask of heavy makeup. I spoke with two influencers on their stories and why they’ve taken it upon themselves to say having acne is all okay.

The influencers

Ella Gorton @_myskinstory, 26, skincare specialist, Salford

Even through challenging times, Ella says she wouldn’t change a thing and is grateful for what acne has brought to her life. Image credit: Ella Gorton.

As someone who had the odd one or two spots as a teenager, a girls’ holiday at 21 was when Ella noticed her skin had got progressively worse. She put this down to using oil-based sun creams, but when she returned home, the acne didn’t disappear. “It was more my mum that pushed me to go and speak to a doctor because I was probably in a bit of denial,” says Ella. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, it’ll get better. I’m 21, it won’t get any worse’, but it did get progressively worse to a point where I took my mum’s advice and went to seek medical advice from the doctor.”

A two-year period of trial and error prescription and topical treatments lead to a course of Roaccutane (isotretinoin), the acne-fighting drug which has had some bad press due to its sometimes harsh side effects. “The first course I was on was for four-and-a-half months, then I ended up going privately through the private dermatologist because the NHS waiting list is weeks or even months.”

It was from here that Ella started posting about her acne and using Roaccutane on Instagram in October 2016, albeit she admits to initially doing so for personal gain than helping others. “This may sound really bad, but it was probably more selfishly that I started because I wanted to use it as a bit of a platform to keep me motivated when I went on Roaccutane,” says Ella. “But I started my Instagram more for selfish reasons, to keep me motivated knowing full well that, regardless of how I felt, regardless of how my skin went, if I posted a picture every day, I needed to post that picture every day and document that journey.” 

Ella regularly posts updates on her acne journey to her many Instagram followers, and has done so since October 2016. Media credit: Ella Gorton/Instagram @_myskinstory.


Ella’s Salford roots are what she credits for her thick-skinned approach when she first started posting pictures of her acne. “I’ve never been the type of sensitive person that if someone would have said something bad about my skin it would have really affected me. 

“If anything, once I posted, it empowered me a lot because you expect a lot of people to judge, that’s just kind of a natural instinct.” 

Ella, a trained beautician and makeup artist, now runs My Skin Story Clinic, a  treatment and consultation service which has now moved solely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She admits to having a lot more to learn about skin, but interest in the clinic has increased since lockdown measures were introduced with people having more time on their hands. Bridging the support gap from what the NHS provides for patients with acne has also been a significant factor for Ella. “It’s funny because it’s something that I’ve done for quite a long time,” says Ella. “We [influencers] can bridge that support gap between not being able to get to a dermatologist or doctor and being able to speak to somebody about it, and I think for us it’s good because we can really empathise with people. With my experience going to a doctor or a dermatologist, as amazing people as they are, they don’t really have that empathy side of things.”  

Even through challenging times, Ella says she wouldn’t change a thing and is grateful for what acne has brought to her life. “If you would have asked me back in 2016 when I was at my lowest and didn’t want to even leave the house, it was a hindrance then and if I look back now, I am so grateful to have acne,” she says. “I know that sounds really, really crazy, but I am because it’s sent me on the path I’m on now, not just from a business perspective but from a lifestyle perspective.”

Kara Olivia Eden @karaoliviabeauty, 23, production coordinator, Manchester

Kara says Instagram’s acne community was her influence to start posting about her own condition. Image credit: Kara Olivia Eden.

Going through teenage life without acne, it was coming off the contraceptive pill due to feeling tired, and at the same time as some of her friends, that first triggered Kara’s condition. “We all felt great but, unfortunately, I was the only one where my skin broke out,” says Kara. “I didn’t really understand why because I didn’t have acne before and looking at other people who came off the pill and developed acne, they had acne before it. But I think for me, it was just a massive hormone imbalance that caused my acne.” 

One particular moment that changed her way of thinking about acne was when Kara went to the shops without makeup on. “I saw so many people stare at me and it made me feel really uncomfortable,” she says. “But there was one person who had acne as well, who was looking at me and giving me a bit of a smile, and I was like, ‘Oh, hello!’. I thought about it, I was in my own head and was thinking the reason why it’s not normal and accepted is because we’re so conscious of it and we cover it up, so other people don’t really know that it’s there.”

It was around three-and-a-half years ago that Kara found the acne community on Instagram, and was influenced by the stories she saw to start posting about her own condition. However, it was a scary transition at first for someone who didn’t like to leave the house without makeup. “I archived it, even though I only had about five or six followers,” says Kara. “But the next day I woke up and thought I just need to put it out there. So my mindset kind of just shifted overnight. I went on loads of acne accounts and followed loads of other people because I literally went from the night before thinking, ‘I don’t want anyone to see this’ to ‘I want everyone to see this’.” 

Kara’s posts such as this one have helped generate more than 8,000 loyal Instagram followers. Media credit: Kara Olivia Eden/Instagram: @karaoliviabeauty


She was initially scared of receiving hurtful comments the people she followed at the time had, but recognises how far the acne community has come. “I would read the comments to try and find useful tips and there would be people commenting on there saying, ‘Oh, that’s ugly, that’s disgusting, go wash your face’, just really horrible comments,” says Kara. “I noticed that, from three and a half years ago and looking at it now, you don’t see any of those comments anymore. When I first followed the hashtag #acnecommunity, it had less than 1,000 followers on it. Now, it’s 64,400 likes on that hashtag. It just goes to show how many people have embraced it and are aware of it now.” 

So what motivates Kara to continue posting about her acne? “Looking back at my prior self and thinking how alone I was, I don’t want anyone else to feel alone. You’re never alone with any condition you’ve got, there’s always someone that’s got something similar to you and that’s the same with acne,” she says, discussing a particular post before lockdown where she wore no makeup to the airport. “When you go to the airport and people are dressed up like they’re going on a night out sometimes, because they want to look nice going on holiday. But I made the conscious effort to not do that because what I hoped was someone would see me and think ‘if she can do it, I can do it’. That’s kind of the attitude I’ve got. If I can do it, you can definitely do it too.”

This Was Meant To Be A Stop-Gap Job. Covid Might Mean It’s Forever

Six months on, and with Covid restrictions only getting tighter, leaving my call centre job for bigger things feels less and less likely.

Stuck at home in the first lockdown, scraping the motivation to finish my master’s while searching job boards to get my foot in the door of any company that would make some use of my studies, uncertainty about my future hit hard.

As weeks went by, the number of appealing opportunities turned into slim pickings. I realised the only way to gain financial security was to find a stop-gap job to see me through, what I thought at the time, would be just the summer.

I detested previous customer service positions, but a lack of options meant I needed to keep an open mind – this would only be temporary, after all. I applied for a call centre job and, weeks later, had a job that I knew, deep down, I didn’t want in the first place. Of course I was pleased to no longer be unemployed during one of the toughest economic periods of modern history, but deflation soon took over. 

I’m not over exaggerating in saying the phone does not stop ringing. Customer after customer call to vent their anger about the company, demand refunds and relay excuses in why they can’t pay their bills: “I’ve just lost my job and I can’t pay the full amount”, “My daughter needs the internet to finish her school work”, “the WiFi is linked to my personal alarm; what if I fall and no one can help me?”

I can’t lie and say it’s become any easier, six months on. Every day is emotionally draining.

I can’t lie and say it’s become any easier, six months on. Every day is emotionally draining. After 11-hour shifts, removing my headset and placing it on my desk feels like a huge weight off my shoulders… only for the feeling of dread for the next day to consume what little downtime I have before the next shift.

I still continue to apply for better-suited positions as and when I have the time, but it’s still proving challenging to either get responses, or opportunities are no longer available as they once were with companies reducing their current workforces.

Ultimately, I know the pandemic has severely hindered my career prospects. I try to remind myself that this very uncertain period, plus the aggressive nature of the call centre, will make me a stronger person when I do finally get my foot in the door of another company. But whenever I see one of my university peers has either been made redundant or placed on furlough due to companies having to strip back to survive – or even seasoned, respected industry professionals in my network back on the job market due to the pandemic – my faith hits yet another low.

Mentally and physically, I feel trapped.

Some friends have secured their first industry jobs, despite the pandemic working on exciting projects with reputable companies, proudly showcasing their progress and career satisfaction. Meanwhile, I’m chained to my headset, stuck with the realisation this stop-gap job will likely become an ongoing fixture in a troubled economy. 

Mentally and physically, I feel trapped. I look at other colleagues in my team who have been with the company for more than a year, eager to progress their careers and will jump at any opportunity to show management they’re ready for the next step. Although I envy their drive and job satisfaction, I couldn’t be further away.

I hope this time of my life is a footnote to my employment history. It’s not that I’m ungrateful – I know there are a lot worse, more dangerous jobs I could be doing right now – but tighter restrictions mean fewer opportunities. Whether it’s people like me, people forced out of industries like travel, hospitality and leisure or the single parents and middle-aged couples I speak to everyday, when the job market eventually recovers, competition against one another and new graduates will be stronger than ever. 

Our passion, hard work and self-motivation cannot go ignored.

Originally published for HuffPost UK here

Supporting your teenager through acne

It’s not just teenagers that fight stubborn acne. Parents are at the brunt of their frustrations with limited expert support. Here, Jack Wynn speaks with two mothers about how they’ve supported their children through the fight, and what resources are available during the pandemic

Aside from the occasional blog post or advice page from skincare manufacturers, it’s hard to find constructive support out there if you’re a parent watching your child struggle with acne and going through crippling anxiety.

An analysis of 42 acne studies recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAMA) also supports the link between acne and depression. Although there is a stronger link with adults, the condition affects 85% of teenagers and researchers say acne should be recognised as a mental health concern. 

One mother knows all too well about living with severe acne, in addition to supporting her own child through the same process. Karen*, a secondary school teacher from Hertford, Hertfordshire, supported her daughter through the struggle but also suffered with the condition herself. “I remember being very aware that I looked at my face in the mirror once,” says Karen. “I think I would have been about 12 or 13. Then it really, really escalated and we’re talking the whole sides of my face, my back, my chest, it got to the point where it wasn’t even individual spots. It was just awful. I was obsessed with it; as far as I thought, it was the first thing that anybody ever saw. Let’s be truthful: it is.” 

Feeling isolated as none of her friends had the condition, acne was still a significant part of Karen’s life even after finishing school. “I still had it [acne] when I went to university,” says Karen. “The very first or second day I met my best friend. She had acne and we talked about it sometime afterwards and it was a bonding thing. It was one of the first things we noticed about each other.” 

I was obsessed with it; as far as I thought, it was the first thing that anybody ever saw. Let’s be truthful: it is

Her daughter also started developing acne in her teens. At first, Karen didn’t say anything and waited for her daughter to initiate the conversation, but as time went on, there was a clear change in self-esteem. She recalls one incident with a physics teacher during her daughter’s A levels. “It was one of the few times I interfered as I’m a teacher myself,” says Karen. “[He] made fun of her for the amount of makeup she wore. You don’t have any right to make any comment on a kid’s appearance anyway; I would never, ever do that, it’s so unprofessional and teenagers are at the most vulnerable anyway. But that was horrible, it made her not want to go to his lessons.” 

She ended up quitting her physics A level, and this spurred Karen to take further action. “When I went into the doctors as a very assertive person, I went in with my facts because I knew that people had been fobbed off with, ‘Oh, it’s just her age, she’ll grow out of it’. I went in saying, ‘I know this is available, or we could try this’ and ‘would you please’ and the doctor did as I asked them to do.”

Her daughter now has a successful career and leads a happy life. There is still, however, some insecurity about her skin. “I’ve never been allowed to tag my daughter in Facebook pictures or anything like that, unless I run it past her, and it started with the acne,” says Karen. She also has lived with her own insecurities even after the acne stopped; wearing foundation is still used as a mask due to the emotions of acne still living with her, but Karen says she’s becoming more confident in going out barefaced. Karen’s advice to other parents going through similar situations: “Listen, and never, ever say ‘don’t be so silly!’ If somebody is worried or frightened by anything, it’s real to them. Telling someone to not be so silly isn’t going to help, is it? They are worried about it, so you’ve got to listen, take it seriously.” 

Alison Newman, a support worker from Romford, Essex, also knows the painful struggle of supporting a child with severe acne, particularly as a single parent coping with the stress all by herself. When her son started to develop acne at the beginning of secondary school, there wasn’t much need for concern until its severity worsened over a short time. She says parents have to be persistent in trying to get the answers and support they need. “The support from doctors is there, but only if you’re the type of person to push for a referral to a specialist”, says Alison. “[Acne] is not seen as important enough as it’s not medical but cosmetic in their opinion, which I think is completely wrong.”

The support from doctors is there, but only if you’re the type of person to push for a referral to a specialist

Alison’s advice is simple, but effective. “Don’t give up! Go to see the doctor and get the medication that is needed. You have to push for help and don’t let anyone fob you off with the typical ‘it’s just teenage skin and they will grow out of it’ excuse.” 

The counsellor perspective

Parents can often feel they are highlighting an issue when talking to their children, which can compound them to be self conscious. They feel they are juggling a practical solution in helping their child with self care, or seeking medical help in some cases, while at the same time they try to get their children to a point where they do not focus too heavily on the demands of appearance. “A lot of parents express struggling with knowing how to connect with and help their teens,” says Victoria Browne, a mindset coach who helps parents deal with their children’s acne, as well as adults suffering a loss of confidence as a result of childhood acne. “There is a fear of getting ‘it’ wrong, judgement by others and not allowing their child space to grow while supporting and guiding them.” 

Victoria also says online counselling services for parents and children are a great way to find support, particularly during lockdown and obvious straints. “The NHS counselling services are stretched between 8-12 week waiting lists, and many GP’s prescribe medication for mental health issues rather than therapeutic services,” says Victoria. “Many online counselling services are great especially for busy, time short people so that hasn’t changed during lockdown. Some parents I have as clients have also reported a closer connection with their teens during lockdown, having greater conversations with both time and depth.” 
Jerilee Claydon has a unique perspective. As a psychotherapist, she suffers with acne herself and worries her children, aged three and five, will suffer with the same issues. In particular, she claims her three-year-old son has “identical” skin to her. “Even while he is only three years old, I’m looking at options for him and how to protect him from acne,” says Jerilee. She recognises the lack of empathy towards acne associated with GPs and suggests parents need more access to education. “[Parents] need to know how to treat acne at its first signs. If it’s managed early on and treated appropriately inside and out, there is a much better chance of managing it. Diet, products, treatments, and medication all need to be considered.”

Affordable lockdown counselling services

*Accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).  

  1. Meredith El-Jawhari, PhD: An experienced psychologist in both the UK and US, one of Meredith’s specialities is child psychology and helping parents and children cope with anxiety, depression and low moods. Sessions start from £45 and she also offers telephone and online counselling services via Zoom (T: 07925948931/E: contact@meredith-therapy.co.uk/W: meredith-therapy.co.uk) 
  2. Ella Tekdag: Ella specialises in helping young people and children cope with the pressure of modern society influenced by social media to improve self-esteem. An initial one-hour session is £40 and she is currently holding counselling sessions via Skype and Zoom (T: 07787 537608/E: ella_tekdag@hotmail.com/W: ellatekdag.com) 
  3. Gillian Reid: Gillian first studied social and child psychology in her bachelor’s degree and uses the method of psychodynamic therapy, where clients can understand the root cause(s) of their issues. Sessions start at £50 and provides both telephone and online counselling (T: 07501 674689/W: gillianreidcounselling.com) 
  4. Phil Martin: Phil has more than 15 years’ experience working with children and families and can help with key areas including stress, anxiety, self-esteem and depression. Online and telephone counselling are available and sessions start at £40 (T: 07789 072592/E: hello@sojourn.org.uk/W: sojourn.org.uk) 
  5. Helen Brown: As an integrative counsellor, merging different psychotherapy methods together, Helen specialises in working with children and adults to explore how early life and previous relationships could impact current behaviours and self-esteem. Telephone and online counselling are available throughout the pandemic and sessions start at £50 (T: 07580425305/E: helenbrowncounselling@gmail.com/W: helenbrowncounselling.co.uk) 

•Editorial note: As requested by the interviewee, we have not used her surname to protect the identity of her daughter, following clause 2 (privacy) of the IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice.

Celebrating acne is a confusing prospect

The #acnepositivity and #skinpositivity movements have made it possible for those living with the condition to feel more confident in their own skin. But even after following these influencers for some time, Jack Wynn still finds the concept difficult to take on board

It was during the transition from primary to secondary school when acne first entered my life. The small, unsightly whiteheads around my t-zone area fairly quickly turned into angry looking pustules, and with the majority of my classmates excitedly eager to move on with the next chapters of their social lives, I was left facing an uncertain future about whether I would fit into a scary new environment.

But unlike a recent study of 25,000 adults published in JAMA Dermatology claiming fatty foods and sugary drinks are indeed contributory factors to developing acne, my upbringing of eating a balanced diet was a contrast to some others who survived on crisps and chocolate bars, yet had clear, almost perfect complexions.   

The concept of acne and skin positivity would have been laughed at immediately when I was at school in the early 2000s and, inevitably, I became a visible target for bullies. It was certainly expected; my sister started the same secondary school two years before and encountered some similar experiences. Although the soul destroying taunts of ‘ugly’ and ‘go wash your face’ that bellowed down the halls left my confidence at an all time low, I was hopeful that my mother’s words of “it will all disappear in no time” would one day come true.

Zoe Vi, 31 from Dartford, had a similar experience when acne first entered her life at a very young age. “I remember it first starting for me when I was nine”, says Zoe. “When I was at school, my friend bought me an acne cream for my birthday, so that was when it first felt like it was a big issue.” The move to secondary school was when the condition got progressively worse for Zoe, and comments from family members didn’t help her situation, “I was getting a lot of criticism for my skin and my parents kept on telling me that it was best for me to cover it up. It then became a necessary thing for me to do before I left the house.”  

She agrees that the social media movements to normalise and embrace acne are a good thing for boosting confidence, even for those that don’t suffer with the condition themselves. “Even the people that don’t necessarily have acne, they’ll look at it and think, ‘well, if they have acne, then it’s a normal thing’. People that don’t have it [acne] can say some horrible things”, says Zoe. 

But as the increasing number of social media influencers from all over the world dedicated to skin or acne positivity are posting empowering messages of hope, showcasing acne’s visibility so publicly and proudly is difficult for me to process. I’ve always felt ashamed of the condition and, despite now only suffering with mild acne on my face and the tops of my legs, the horror and embarrassment has lived with me all of these years later. 

It was only a few years ago I would watch YouTube tutorials of people making their own DIY face masks out of lemon juice and crushed paracetamol, desperately attempting to combat the condition. But now, a dramatic shift in social attitudes is attempting to change how acne is perceived. 

Kate Kerr, an experienced clinical facialist based in London, agrees that being positive about acne is confusing and regularly meets with clients desperately wanting to get rid of the condition. “Acne is a medical condition, I don’t think anyone could be happy to accept a medical condition and be positive about it when there is treatment available,” says Kate. “The thing is, with acne, it can easily cause scarring and the scarring effects can be with you for life. The psychological effects of acne are very far-reaching and I find people actually have more of an unrealistic expectation of skin health and clarity nowadays because of social media.” 

Kate also recognises the potential physical scarring effects of acne and how this could impact an individual’s self-esteem. “The scarring is something to take into account. So the acne may not bother you now, but the scarring that’s left over may bother you. Even if not now, but in years to come. I think it’s something that shouldn’t be left.”

Eve Langhorn, 25, works as a marketing and PR manager in London and first developed acne shortly after her teenage years at the age of 20. After using topical treatments such as benzoyl peroxide and undergoing an eight-month course of Roaccutane, Eve’s skin doesn’t breakout as much as it did in the beginning, but flare ups sometimes occur. “I don’t have perfect skin by any means and acne comes back in waves”, says Eve, who praises the skin positivity movement as a way of promoting acceptance.

In her group of girlfriends, she considers herself to be the ‘token friend’ with bad skin, “Unfortunately, I’m in a friend group of eight girls and I’m the token friend who has bad skin. You know, if there had been more of a push for skin positivity a few years ago, it would have maybe helped me out.” 

As it’s expected that influencer marketing will grow to an estimated $9.7 billion in 2020, the positivity movement also means big business and a profitable avenue for skincare brands to advertise. Dixie D’Amelio, a US TikTok social media influencer with more than 26 million followers, was recently awarded an ambassador role for Dermalogica’s Clear Start brand. Part of the campaign is for Dixie to discuss her personal experience with acne and it coincided with the release of their new Clear Start FlashFoliant exfoliator. Moving into the social media influencer marketing space was described by Carly Rogers, business leader at Clear Start, Dermalogica as “the most successful way to build our community brand awareness.” 

The problem I see here is building reliability; the products being promoted could well be a viable option for some to help manage their acne, but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the condition. For me, and others I’ve spoken with via Facebook forums such as Acne Support Group UK over the years, a combination of a good skincare regime and lifestyle factors such as minimising the amount of sugar in your diet, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding direct exposure to harsh sunlight are also contributory factors to calming the condition. 

But not all influencers are in the game of pushing products to their followers. Lou Northcote, a former contestant on Britain’s Next Top Model and creator of the #FreeThePimple Instagram movement, is an example of a growing influencer making an impact. Not only is her mission to normalise acne, she also gives useful tips and advice she has learnt from dermatologists and other skincare professionals on the active ingredients brands use and how these can be really beneficial for the skin, telling Women’s Health UK in May this year, “I really try to use my platform to educate people. I’m lucky to have had access to all these dermatologists and all this different skincare, so I try to share that.”     

From what I’ve encountered, I initially thought the acne positivity influencer market was oversaturated. As someone that follows the movement and works with social media on a daily basis, I was curious to find out Eve’s thoughts on whether this was the case. “I think, from my perspective, there’s not enough of them to promote it”, says Eve Langhorn, marketing and PR manager. “I don’t think enough is being done. There will always be a strive to achieve perfection, though. I think it can be more normalised but I don’t think it can ever be fully accepted.” 

Positivity influencers could also be instrumental in the campaign to introduce more psychological help for those with skin conditions including acne, such as managing stress and body dysmorphia. The British Skin Foundation found as a result of a 2019 study that 87% of dermatologists agree more psychological treatments are needed for both children and adults. Dr Maria Gonzalez, medical director at the Specialist Skin Clinic in Cardiff and a dermatologist with more than 25 years’ experience, says this has been an issue for quite some time and may be even harder to action during the current pandemic. “The main problem with this is funding, especially on the NHS,” says Dr Gonzalez. “With private practice, they can do this [refer to counselling services]. But with the NHS, this will not happen anytime soon, particularly during the current climate.” 

However, there are some support initiatives available on the NHS. The Psychology in Dermatology Service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, for example, provides emotional support to those experiencing difficulties with day-to-day activities as a result of having a skin condition. The service, which schedules one-hour appointments either in-person, over the phone or Skype, helps to deal with issues such as anxiety, coping with different treatments, long-term management techniques, and the effect the skin condition may have on self-esteem. The Skin Support website, created by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), also provides useful tools recommended by professionals.  

To this day, it’s still daunting for me to have a picture taken at a certain closeness in case it magnifies some of the leftover scarring, and sometimes the thought of a video call during one of my rare but problematic flare ups makes my heart race. I especially could never imagine during the times where I was battling severe cystic acne I would choose to post pictures so exposed and in a vulnerable position. I still struggle with the idea of embracing the condition, and I can’t help but sometimes wonder about how happy social media influencers truly are that they feel the need to expose a deeply vulnerable part of their lives. But I must try to remember the change in social acceptance of acne and how the positivity movement is making a significant impact for many sufferers.

How well are women represented in digital journalism?

With Janine Gibson’s recent promotion to a senior digital position at the Financial Times and the AOP Digital Publishing Awards coming up in October, Jack Wynn investigates female representation in digital journalism and the current gender diversity climate

It’s difficult to comprehend how women remain underrepresented in the newsroom. Study after study has analysed low female representation in journalism and the results of these studies are behind the inception of organisations including Women in Journalism (WIJ), Digital Women Leaders and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), created to provide resources and support networks.

In 2018, the European Journalism Observatory (EJO) found that just 23% of articles in eleven European countries were written by women compared to 41% of men (the balance was made up of un-bylined / agency articles). The latest Global Media Monitoring Project results echo these findings; the number of female journalists reporting on stories was less than two out of five and predictions for the 2020 results suggest little progress will have been made.

Digital is a prime source of real estate for media brands and the upcoming AOP Digital Publishing Awards in October is an excuse for peers to come together and celebrate the ground-breaking work achieved in the industry. Are women underrepresented here, too? If so, it could well be that a career in the digital landscape generally does not appeal to the majority of female journalists.

On the flip side, historical male dominance in the newsroom is another potential factor. There’s little focus on gender staff equality in the digital space, so what do those at the forefront of digital journalism think?

Janine Gibson, digital editor at the Financial Times (FT): “Look, there are more women than there used to be and that’s great. We have a new female editor-in-chief in Roula Khalef at the FT and that’s wonderful to see.

When I first joined the online team at The Guardian to launch mediaguardian.co.uk over fifteen years ago, I went to work for Emily Bell who was the editor of the website. The managing editor, culture editor and news editor were also all female. I think digital has long been a place where women have felt able to establish themselves and enable other women into senior jobs that maybe weren’t so accessible in print.

There are now women editors and leaders around every area of the media industry, but in overall volume, there are still way too few female leaders from middle management upwards. That goes as well if not double for men and women of colour, people from working class backgrounds and triple for people who intersect underrepresented groups. Also, the media remains too homogenous.

What makes me optimistic is that a new generation of leaders will not need to be persuaded that a more diverse newsroom leads to more diverse audiences. Therefore, it’s just a question of attention and commitment.”

Zoe Dickens, digital editor at The Gentleman’s Journal: “I’ve been very lucky in my career to have had a series of amazing female managers and editors. Across the board, I think that regardless of publication or industry, women are making great headway at the top levels of digital publishing.

I’m not sure it would yet be right to say it’s female driven; this won’t happen until there are more women learning coding and taking control of the back ends of these websites as well as the front end, but I definitely think there is more gender equality in digital publishing than there is in print.

Digital-first journalists are in a fairly privileged position in that, at many publishing houses, digital teams are growing while print teams are shrinking. This means there are a lot of opportunities. However, in my experience, journalism courses have been slow to introduce their students to the range of jobs available in digital journalism. It wasn’t until I entered the industry that I even heard the job titles SEO editor, community editor or growth manager and this is where much of the expansion is taking place.

It is well documented that women are far less likely than men to apply for jobs they don’t feel fully qualified for. Therefore, at present, many of these roles are going to men and this means they are gaining digital experience, not women.”

Natalie Cornish, acting digital editor of Red: “I’m not sure digital is becoming more female driven; I think there are plenty of opportunities to progress in digital journalism for both male and female journalists. Although, in my experience, women have always been at the forefront of digital developments, especially in newsrooms and the media in general. In terms of the prominence of women in the top jobs, my current boss (the chief digital content editor of Hearst UK) is female, as are my previous four bosses.

Digital was seen as a secondary area to print for a long time (which was usually very male heavy) and for that reason, I think lots of young female journalists (like me) saw plenty of opportunities for growth and ownership in that area so moved from print to digital early on in our careers. Now ten or so years on, those women (and lots of male journalists who did the same) are in senior digital positions.

The future for women in digital journalism is incredibly exciting. We’re working in a fascinating time politically and culturally, where women’s issues are at the cutting edge and female voices from all corners are finally being given platforms to tell their stories. It’s a huge privilege to be at the forefront of that.”

Dr Alexandra Borchardt, senior research associate at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford: “Digital has always been an option for women in journalism.

Unfortunately, for the most part, it’s because many of the low paid, less prestigious jobs have been in digital as opposed to secure, very well paid jobs in TV, radio, print.

Now that everyone wants to be a digital champion, lots of digital talent gets hired at traditional companies. This is a good opportunity for women. However, from what I’ve seen in the industry, compared to men, women tend to have too much training to begin with and they need to be promoted to learn on the job. It is very often assumed that digital is all about tools and tech, but the tech is easy to adopt.

The real challenges are in making changes and people management; this is where many women are really strong, and there are more women in data journalism and investigative journalism than is commonly assumed.”

Richard Reeves, managing director of the Association of Online Publishers (AOP), points to the female representation of judges for this year’s AOP Digital Publishing Awards (of the 33 judges, 17 are women) as well as the Digital Editor of the Year Award being presented to female winners in both 2018 and 2019. He says, “Whenever we host events and discussions, we always strive to have a fair representation of the industry to ensure a balanced perspective, and this approach extends to our judging panels, too.

We encourage feedback at all our events and endeavour to address and meet the concerns and needs of attendees. A big part of this is making sure all voices have an opportunity to be heard. When confirming the judges for the AOP Digital Publishing Awards, it was just as much about selecting voices of authority based on merit as it was about ensuring those voices represented a cross section of the publishing industry.”

Nina Goswami, creative diversity lead at the BBC, discusses the broadcaster’s 50:50 Project which is helping to deliver on their commitment to increase female representation across the board to better reflect the public they serve. She says: “The concept initially came from Ros Atkins, the presenter of BBC News’ Outside Source programme, and from his idea, it has grown to include over 550 teams within the BBC, all tracking and recording female representation in their content. Across news, sport, entertainment, factual, music and more, there are several thousand content-makers all contributing to this huge collective action.

We’re proud to say, it’s been really successful and is now having an impact outside of the BBC, with more than 50 organisations from the world of media and beyond signing up and adopting the project’s methodology. For BBC teams, we record representation for programmes on air, on screen and also online, so it’s certainly had a positive impact on our digital journalism output, changes that are becoming embedded in the way we produce online news content.”

The urgency for media outlets to push their forward-thinking digital strategies and adopt the latest trends to introduce new and innovative ideas has become crucial in the crowded market. But, unlike the countless number of studies analysing the number of women in journalism as a whole, analysis for digital-only is sparse and virtually non-existent.

Furthermore, it’s outdated and disappointing that in 2020, a society that’s forever discussing the need for women to be awarded the same opportunities as their counterparts, the majority of bylines in Europe are attributed to men. However, as the case studies in this article have suggested, there are some promising signs for women looking to develop their careers in the digital landscape and to continue being game changers in a progressive field.

Article originally published here

How can the mainstream media thrive in the digital age?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to digital, and media organisations need to pinpoint what they want to achieve to standout and survive in a crowded market

Almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Image credit: Pixabay

The main trend among audiences is the same problem that so many industries are facing: in the age of the internet, people expect journalism to be free; they expect it to be immediate; they expect it to always be right; and they increasingly expect it to not contradict in what they believe to be true.

As technology thrives, it goes without saying that a strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market, and that can prove a challenge for many outlets like CNN and the BBC which built their reputations in television; as well as newspapers from the Telegraph to the Guardian that have been in circulation for much longer.

Although it’s been found that 46% of readers find print ads easier to understand (digital reached 19%), digital is where most audiences can be found. If you ask people under a certain age where they first discover their news, very few will say television and even fewer will say print. The internet has created a vacuum for much younger outlets such as BuzzFeed to thrive, but existing outlets need to compete with them if they want to survive. 

A strong digital presence is vital for any media organisation to survive in such a crowded market. Image credit: Pixabay

More traditional media brands have recognised the need to ramp up digital presence to compete. Alastair James, broadcast journalist at BBC Wales News, says the organisation understands the importance of a digital offering. “We are very aware that digital is where a large amount of our audience is and where our potential audience will visit first,” says Alastair. “Efforts are being made to reach out to people online and to get them to come back. The challenge with our digital platform will be differentiating our output to that of everyone else.” 

A substantial contributor to a successful digital pathway is the need for all journalists to be confident in their digital skills, embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. As Robert Picheta, digital producer at CNN International, explains. “There is no such thing as a journalist who isn’t a digital journalist anymore. As soon as I started working, I realised how absurd that approach was because young journalists are valued almost entirely for their digital skills and if you don’t have them, you simply won’t get a job.” He continued. “There’s a generational gap that needs to be bridged, to ensure that everyone within the company is on board and able to fully adapt to where journalism is moving.”

Daniel Green, multimedia reporter at Journalism.co.uk, agrees that keeping up with digital trends as a journalist is key to providing a competitive digital offering. “Not being able to adapt to the progressive needs of audiences will be turning point to any news organisation’s survival,” says Dan. 

All media organisations should be embracing the diverse and ever-changing technologies such as the rise in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) storytelling. Image credit: Pixabay

Some organisations have performed particularly well in trying to adapt to the shift to digital, in particular, the Washington Post. They have managed to establish a presence on a variety of different platforms such as on smart TVs and TikTok in order to capture audiences wherever they may be. While their work provides a model to follow, news organisations cannot simply use the same content from one platform to another. What works for the 10 o’clock news will not have the same effect for TikTok, for example. To be successful on those different platforms, you need to be able to speak in the language of the target audience, and diversity of newsrooms strongly comes into play. 

Furthermore, a report by The New York Times on their newsroom’s aspirations provides some insightful knowledge for other organisations to follow suit. For example, utilising multimedia techniques instead of relying on the generic 300-word story template; recruiting more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas; and the paywall inclusion has helped by replacing advertising revenue with subscription fees. 

Assessing the way in which younger generations consume news is crucial to further development of digital strategies. Reuters found smartphones to be the main method for those under 35 accessing news (69%) and they also discovered that almost half of Gen Z news readers (45%; those aged between 18-24) first locate news in the morning via their smartphones. Furthermore, 19% first access news via TV and 5% via their computers. Gen Y
users (aged between 25-34) have developed similar trends, with 39% first accessing news via their smartphones; 22% switching on the TV; and 8% on the computer.

As research finds digital outlets to be increasingly changing and publishers rating smaller platforms, like Apple News, to be as important as Facebook, Francesco Zaffarano, senior social media editor at The Telegraph, says it’s important to be aware of how much digital can change. “The bottom line is that relying on platforms’ consistency and stability is a recipe for disaster,” says Francesco. “Platforms keep changing, which is also what makes them an interesting and stimulating place to experiment with new ways of doing your job.” 

The New York Times makes a conscious effort to recruit more journalists that are ‘experts’ in certain areas. Image credit: Pixabay.

Research by Pew Research Center in 2018 heavily corresponds to the importance of social media and a newsroom’s output; it’s the first source of breaking news for 64.5% of US adults via Snapchat, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Francesco describes how media organisations need to utilise social media for further growth. “If people access news via social media, we have an opportunity to analyse habits and a series of issues to tackle, concerning the way people access news; how reading news on social affects the understanding of news; and how this can shape trust.” 

The shift by audiences to digital shows no signs of diminishing. Mainstream media can further develop due to the constant need for instant news and content that feels accessible. In addition, the need for diversifying revenue streams will be crucial in the years ahead, as advertising revenue dries up due to the switch to digital. Journalists’ continuing to distribute content via social media is also imperative to the mainstream media’s growth; a 2017 study found 75% of journalists sharing content on social media platforms was necessary for content promotion. As Robert from CNN International concludes, “Digital is the future, if not the present. It will continue to dominate how companies think about their output and their audiences, and it will continue to become the first and only way most people access news.”