Could you be a Mental Health First Aider?

The state of employee mental health and wellbeing is one the biggest concerns amongst corporate leaders right now, especially as businesses strive to return to pre-pandemic productivity. Here, we talk to Helen Moon founder of charitable company EventWell about the challenges being experienced amongst people who work in events.

What is EventWell?

We’re a social enterprise which exists to promote and protect the mental health and wellbeing of events industry professionals.

Which mental health issues are you seeing at the moment?

There’s a strong incidence of anxiety disorders and depression; also, imposter syndrome:  people are doubting their skills and abilities. A lot of confidence has been lost and, at the same time, working in depleted teams, individuals are under more pressure.

Was the pandemic the key reason for this?

Yes – the pandemic was a period of great uncertainty; our industry experienced mass trauma from lockdown measures. When people returned to work they had to relearn how to do their jobs – and all this came on top of Brexit, which had already prompted large numbers to leave the industry. The hospitality sector particularly has suffered as businesses have struggled to fill supply chain gaps. And now, the cost-of-living crisis is fuelling further anxiety.

Is any one age group or demographic showing an increased prevalence of mental ill-health?

The worst affected have been the younger cohort – those below the age of 25. We know that 75% of people who live with mental health conditions started before that age. They’ve grown up in a 24/7 connected world; it’s the ‘always on’ state that adds to stress. We’ve also seen the emergence of a second group: middle managers – heads of department and team leaders are suffering. They’re less comfortable at disclosing their problems.

How does this form of mental ill health manifest itself

People are in a permanent state of alertness with increased heartrate and elevated blood pressure. They’re feeling overwhelmed by basic executive functions such as dealing with a pile of emails or prioritising their day. They are finding multi-tasking harder to do.

What signs should managers be looking for in their teams?

Keep an eye out for behavioural change – although remote working makes this harder to monitor.  If people are normally bubbly, they get quieter or even withdrawn.  They may let their appearance go.  There’s no blood test for depression or anxiety, so managers really should get to know their team members on a personal level, and that means plenty of one-to-one interaction.

What is the first response for a manager if a colleague is showing signs of distress?

Simply asking ‘How are you?  Are you OK?’  Reach out. If they say ‘I’m fine’, encourage them to have a coffee with you in a quiet, calm environment. You can’t force people to disclose but a seed will have been planted and they may come back later, because they’ll feel psychologically safe to share their anxieties.  Tell them ‘I’m here if you need anything,’ then check in on them again.

It’s not the manager’s job to fix the person but if they’re concerned about a colleague’s personal safety they should raise it with HR – with the colleague’s permission.  Trust your gut – and if you have received mental health training, you’ll know instinctively if something isn’t right.

What do you believe would be the ideal structure of mental health support within any organisation?

We urge leaders to look across their entire organisation to foster a culture that has psychological safety as its bedrock. The aim should be for people to know they can put their hands up and ask for help without blame or stigma. We encourage leaders to invest in mental health training: ideally there should be one mental health first aider for every ten employees. And training mental health first aiders should be part of a strategic and wider mental health plan and policy for an organisation, as without a plan then it is simply box ticking.

Where can managers get mental health first aid training?

Mental Health First Aid England (MHFA) is a good place to start – they are the main providers. We at EventWell can facilitate this. We offer mental health awareness training tailored to the events industry. These are delivered by our official partners for mental first aid, Balancing Edges, and are accredited with MHFA. We also offer a calendar of workshops covering subjects such as project management exhaustion.”

Visit EventWell’s website for further information about their work, including helpline details and mental health first aid workshops.

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