Mental health: don’t suffer in silence – it’s OK to not be OK

Hospitality and events professionals troubled by mental health issues have suffered in silence for too long, according to Leigh Cowlishaw, past chair of the HBAA and leader of the HBAA’s Mental Health Awareness campaign. Here she explains why the industry must do more to help them and address the issue.

Findings from a recent survey reveal that the hospitality and events industry is one of the top three most stressful professions in the UK.

Long hours, tight deadlines, high expectations, clients not seeing us as individuals, time poverty and snacking on rich and fatty foods all have negative effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of people in the industry and have led to an epidemic of mental health problems.

It’s easy to underestimate the scale of the problem. Across Britain as a whole, more working days are lost due to issues with mental health than to physical health. This fact surprises most professionals, with employers traditionally more sympathetic to physical ailments, which are often more visible and therefore more accepted as an excuse to call in sick. Those suffering from mental health problems however, are just as distressed as those suffering physical pain. They are often described by their colleagues as appearing distant, disconnected and disengaged. They frequently come into the office late and many peers will remark that they are ‘not on their game’.

Tackling the mental health issue is a key HBAA campaign theme for 2019, supporting the next generation objectives. The key is to create easily accessible opportunities within the organisation for each individual to be honest about their anxieties and insecurities confidentially and to understand that ‘It’s OK to not be OK’.

We’ve committed to a series of initiatives during the year and to putting a mental health topic on the agenda at every members’ meeting. We started by training the whole Executive Committee to be Mental Health First Aiders and by organising two Mental Health First Aid courses for members and non-members for the first half of the year. During Mental Health Awareness Week, we arranged a special educational event on the subject which also raised funds for mental health training, for our Next Gen Board. This is just the start.

We’ve also added a dedicated suite of materials on the HBAA website with wellness activity plans, monthly reviews and useful fact sheets among the many readily available tools.
As the HBAA expands its mental health initiatives, the association plans to help to train more Mental Health First Aiders to deal with workplace related stresses. We are also pushing for mental health to be included in performance reviews.

For those wishing to register for the next HBAA Mental Health First Aider training course, please visit

Finally, here are some useful tips that can help everyone to take greater care of their mental and physical health:

1) Be self-aware – understand your limits and how much you can get done in a day. Realise that business never really ends and that a healthy work life balance is key.
2) Ensure you are getting enough sleep – lack of sleep leads to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol, which is highly detrimental to long term health problems. Turn off the smartphone an hour before bed to get a better night’s sleep.
3) Nutrition – ‘you are what you eat.’ Fatty foods high in salt and sugar may provide a temporary energy boost, but the crash later always leaves you feel sluggish and lethargic. Adopt a more varied diet by ‘eating the rainbow’ and ensure caffeine levels are moderated and keep hydrated with plenty of water.
4) Exercise – while some may not have the desire to go the gym there are plenty of small opportunities for exercise, such as walks during lunchbreaks, that can make a huge difference to overall health and wellbeing. Exercise should also be incorporated into meeting and events content, for delegate wellbeing consideration
5) Be reflective – modern society moves at a relentless pace, with many of us continuously looking ahead and fretting over our ‘to do’ list. It is important to take some time each day to self care and appreciate the here and now, to ‘stop and smell the roses’.
6) Say ‘Its OK Not To Be OK’ – sometimes it helps to unburden yourself by sharing your struggles with others. The HBAA has created a specific hashtag, #HBAA2BOK so event professionals can tell their story.

For more information about becoming an HBAA Mental Health First Aider, visit

To donate to the HBAA Mental Health First Aider training fund, see