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A helping hand

by EN

EN speaks to Stress Matters founder Laura Capell-Abra about her new free helpline to support vulnerable people across the industry affected by the impact of Covid-19.

Stress Matters Support Line is seeing up to 15 people contacting them daily as the Covid-19 crisis takes its toll on the exhibition industry. Laura Capell-Abra, who also runs wellbeing company Stress Matters, set up the line because she knew the crisis would affect people in the event industry in different ways.

She said: “Everyone in our industry is being impacted and this is causing a high level of anxiety. We are seeing a large increase in the numbers of people applying to be a ‘Buddy’ on our Buddies Matter programme (our free peer-to-peer matching service), but we were also conscious that there are lots of people who will need more qualified mental health support.

“We have worked around the clock to set up the Stress Matters Support Line so that everyone now has free and easy access to trained Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA). At the moment the Support Line is manned by MHFA volunteers, but we are appealing to the industry for funding to enable us to extend this crucial service to a 24/7 helpline accessible through all communication methods.”

The helpline is supported by four people: Laura Capell-Abra and her husband James; Laila Datoo, founder, A Life More Mindful; and new Stress Matters recruit Andreas Georgiou.

Capell-Abra explained that if the company can find additional funding, they want to make the service 24 hour, and take on more volunteers from across the industry. Since setting up the service at the beginning of April, the company has handled scores of connections either by phone, SMS or Whatsapp.

Capell-Abra added: “Some of the stories we hear are heart-breaking. Junior team members who are just starting out in their events career, who have been working solely on an event that has now been cancelled so have yet to experience the buzz of putting an event on and seeing it come to life.

“One company owner was devastated that he was having to make half his company redundant as he knew that even with furlough, the business wouldn’t be there quickly enough after to keep them on. He was feeling like he had let the team down and was questioning whether he was fit to run the business if he was feeling so guilty. Not only was he feeling the pressure of his business responsibilities, but he wasn’t taking a salary and it is impacting his family life.

“We also hear from people who are really struggling being on their own during isolation. Events is full of a lot of sociable and extroverted people and one woman was finding it hard to get that energy from Zoom calls and was feeling incredibly low. We also had an HR manager call asking for advice on how to support the team in practical ways.”

Capell-Abra went on to say that even without the pandemic, the industry is susceptible to high levels of stress. She explains: “I did a stress management workshop at a conference recently, and a couple of men hung back after to talk to us. One was telling us how a team member had disclosed that week that he had depression, and the other man told us how a member of his team had killed himself.

“The fact that they felt like they could share their stories was so reassuring and a clear indicator that we are making progress in this industry in terms of openness around mental health.” The company also operates a Buddies Matter programme which pairs up people from across the industry – including some staff at EN parent company Mash Media.

The Stress Matters Support Line is open from 8am to 8pm and can be accessed by texting 07481 362111 and a trained MHFA will respond and call back.

To talk to Laura directly about financial support, please email her at laura@stressmatters.org.uk 

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