Dec 7 / Anna Miley

Why does the wellbeing of a local councillor matter?

Healthy leaders, equals healthy democracies

We elect leaders to make the best possible decisions for our communities. And put simply, a healthy mind makes for better decisions. When our elected leaders are overwhelmed by the mental and emotional load of their role, their cognitive capacity to effectively execute their key responsibilities declines. This leads to broader consequences for the community and can fuel the cycle of mistrust in government.

A report released this month by the Apolitical Foundation found that the politicians they surveyed had lower mental wellbeing than emergency-service employees. And unlike the growing support and resources available for our valuable first-responders, there is very limited direct support available to our elected leaders.

In their 2022 book Psychology of democracy: Of the people, by the people, for the people (Cambridge University Press), Ashley Weinberg argues that “without support for politicians positive mental health their ability to safeguard effectively the democratic system or to conduct due processes may be compromised, as might a jobholder’s performance in any other type of work.”.

The pressure-cooker of civic life

There are universal stress sources that affect politicians as they do others in high-pressure workplaces. Importantly, we also recognise additional unique stress sources that elected leaders, such as local councillors, face. These include but are not limited to intense public scrutiny, dissonance between personal and politically required views leading to inner conflict, juggle of employment with civic duties and personal life, limited control over job-related factors and outcomes, and finally, limited training and support on the job.

The importance of directly addressing both the universal and unique stressors experienced by our elected leaders cannot be understated. In the Apolitical Foundation’s recent survey titled, Mere Mortals: the State of Politicians' Mental Wellbeing and Why It Matters:

  • 40% of respondents reported they have considered not interacting with their constituents and
  • 20% reported they have considered missing a vote due to the state of their mental wellbeing

Clearly, this is concerning – we have elected these people to make decisions on our behalf and there is evidence that due to declining mental wellbeing some politicians feel they are not able to meet some of the key responsibilities, including voting on important decisions.

It is not just the individual councillor’s responsibility to maintain their mental wellbeing and job effectiveness. There is capacity for organisational, cultural and societal change to better support our elected leaders to govern well and stay well while doing it. It follows the simple logic of well people make better decisions. 

What we are doing in this space

In our work with local councillors across NSW and more broadly throughout Australia, we have heard directly from councillors about their experiences of stress-related declining performance, broader health and relationship issues and unfortunately in some instances burn-out and illness.

The mental wellbeing of local councillors is a core focus for our work – proof is in the pudding as we have a resident mindset and wellbeing coach in our team – Anna Miley!

In recognition of this work, Locale Learning has recently been included in the Apolitical Foundation’s Trailblazing Organizations Supporting Political Leaders’ Mental Wellbeing. This list includes organisations across the globe that work directly to support the mental health of elected leaders. We are leading in this space in Australia and are providing science-backed, heart-led wellbeing support and resources to local government politicians along with supporting local councils to implement organisational strategies to foster the wellbeing and performance of councillors.

We are taking the principles of mindfulness, stress resilience and self-leadership and making them applicable to councillors. And beyond just suggesting tips and ideas, we are committed to helping councillors meaningfully integrate wellbeing strategies into their work week. We are also leading conversations within local councils to encourage the prioritising of councillors wellbeing within the organisational culture.

Taking action

Supporting our elected leaders to remain resilient and effective in their civic duties benefits us all. Our mindset and wellbeing services can be found on our website. We would love to hear from councillors and council staff with your ideas and suggestions for how we can best support the humans we have elected to make great decisions on the future of our local communities.

Reach out to Anna for an obligation free chat at [email protected].

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