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There is a much-used survey by CareerCast that came out in 2017 ranking event planner as the fifth most stressful job in the world; beaten only by roles in the emergency services and military. It seems to have been one of the sparks that set off a movement at the backend of 2017, and throughout 2018, that has seen wellbeing thrust into the forefront of the UK events industry.

The subject has clearly hit a well exposed nerve; throughout 2018 I saw dozens of amazing initiatives, from Eventwell to Stress Matters, internal commitments and pledges from venues, event management companies, and others within the supply chain, all raising awareness of mental health in the industry and seeking to understand why we’re so exposed. As I write I’m preparing to sit on a panel at International Confex, the third year the show has addressed wellbeing, and representative of countless other initiatives from trade shows, industry associations, and others, looking to take this discussion forward.

When not leading on the marketing for Lime Venue Portfolio, I’m also involved in the marketing for the HBAA, and it is here that the subject had gained more personal traction. Like many other event professionals, I’ve read about wellbeing, and understand the importance of the subject. However, when at work, it’s something a little more personal; something that crosses work place happiness and work life balance. Pretty much everyone will either know someone with mental health issues, or suffer from them in their own life.

In my mind this changes the subject tone from ‘awareness campaign’ to the need to manage people more empathetically, and strive for them to have happier work and personal lives. However, the extremity of mental health ailment was bought into stark relief when I recently took on a course, through the HBAA; the course was called Mental Health First Aid.

It’s a pretty emotive title if you think about it. First Aid engenders images of critical first response, someone not breathing, maybe in shock, found prone next to exposed electricity, or drowning in a bath. First Aid has a ring of emergency that we often do not associate with mental health.

For me, this is where the course had so much value, and I can only commend the HBAA for bringing it to its members. The first thing we learned was the idea that mental health issues need a swift and decisive response, as early as possible, just as with any other illness or accident. This is a mindset that is initially hard to grasp, but the more one learns about the dangers of mental health issues, the more this urgency is warranted.

In the same way as with physical First Aid, the course first educated attendees on spotting the warning signs, so that the Mental Health First Aider could then intervene early, with the aim of getting professional health as soon as possible. The acronym we used (the trainer clearly understanding our industry’s love of an acronym) was ALGEE: approach / assess / assist; listen without judgement; give support; encourage them to seek help from professionals; encourage them to seek help from other supports such as friends and family.

Not only is this easy to remember, but excellent and well thought out action plan. The work place is often too dismissive, problems are for home, work is work. When the reality is that work is a massive part of anyone’s life, and a trigger area for many with mental health issues. How nice, but how rare, to be approached at work by a peer or leader, just to check in, make sure everything is OK in body and mind. Billions of pounds is lost by businesses every year due to mental health related absence, so interference is both caring and professional.

Equally, the idea of listening without judgement is so important. Mental health is harder to spot, it’s not as visible as an illness or physical ailment, but it can be equally debilitating. It’s also taboo, and managers are not always comfortable approaching it, we feel the need to either be experts or novices, out of our depth, when actually a non-judgemental ear is all we need to be. The next step is always to seek help, professional and personal.

The course was two days of intensive learning about a deeply emotive subject. On walking out of the room, pretty much everyone felt exhausted but prepared to take our learnings into everyday life. So much was put on the table; we talked about intervening, but doing so in the right way, with the right mind set, and in full knowledge of the urgency of dealing with mental health issues.

So much has been written about mental health and wellbeing in the events industry, and for me Mental Health First Aid is just one of the practical things we can do, as leaders and employers within the industry, to begin to deal with the issue. It’s a tough two day course, but it’s incredibly important for an industry which has a long road to travel in dealing with mental health in the work place and wider community.

Full details about the MHFA course offered via the HBAA are available here: https://www.hbaa.org.uk/about-us/our-strategic-objectives/mental-health

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