Mental illness is one of the last great taboos. Anxiety, stress, depression and other conditions are common, but not commonly admitted or discussed - particularly in sectors like construction.
Research suggests that in the construction sector, people could be 10 times more likely to die by suicide than from on-site accidents. Yet efforts to recognise and support employees suffering from mental health issues have been patchy.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK, with 76% of all suicides in 2014 being men (ONS, NISRA, GRO 2014). Construction is particularly affected - partly because the workforce has a disproportionate number of males, and partly because tight deadlines and budgets can make it a stressful industry to work in.
The other big issue is culture. Admitting that you have a mental health issue to your mates and your employer has not been easy. Construction employers have not always been tuned into the signs of mental illness. And multi-tiered supply chains make it harder for contractors to take responsibility for everyone employed on their contracts in the way they would wish to.
Becky Wright is a Psychotherapist and a Therapist who coaches. She has been engaged in delivering Mental Health Awareness Training to employers as part of the MINDFUL EMPLOYER Project. She has noticed how mental health has traditionally been left under the rubble in industries such as construction. She thinks this might be due to the difficulty in identifying symptoms and workers’ reluctance to admit they are not coping. Many are under considerable pressure to meet deadlines in a very male dominated and driven workplace. This seems like a perfect storm to prevent disclosure from happening.
Fortunately, things are changing. In January 2017 the construction industry launched the Mates in Mind initiative. Mates in Mind has been set up by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) with the support of the British Safety Council. This charitable programme aims to raise awareness and understanding of poor mental health in the construction sector. Balfour Beatty, Careys and Willmott Dixon are among the pioneers.
The key message is to encourage openness. Mates in Mind promotes trained workplace champions who become people that construction workers can speak to.
Private counselling can be another positive option. MBACP (Member British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited providers are based all over the country. Prices can be between £35 and £60 per session with most happy to offer short term work which may suit on-site contracts.
Some employers choose to contract with a counselling provider. Becky Wright New Leaf Life Design offers a package where employers can purchase on a pay as you go basis. Most employers offer between 4 to 6 sessions. There are also on-site workplace wellbeing sessions where workers can attend shorter 30min sessions and discuss, in confidence, any aspect of their wellbeing including mental health and awareness. This can be a very positive initiative and preventative measure.
This part of employee engagement helps to achieve each employee’s full emotional and mental connection with their work. Becky told us, "in these sessions we explore the whole human being, which can help with staff retention. Many employees have conflict or challenges outside of work, if we work through these issues it makes more of the employee available within work. Employees feel valued, and they have more emotional and mental energy for the rest of their work and lives."
To really start constructing a good mental health awareness campaign in work we need to start with ourselves; think about how you would like to be treated, how would you like to be listened to, and what would be important.
Becky Wright is Director of New Leaf Life Design a Counselling, Coaching and Training Company please contact her for pop up workplace sessions, counselling and mental health awareness training.
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