May 13th to 19th 2019 marked Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and it was fantastic to see many built environment organisations and individuals sharing knowledge and insights on supporting and embracing colleagues experiencing mental health issues.
Mental Health and particularly mental health in Construction has come under the spotlight in recent years. Research commissioned by Public Health England reported shocking levels of poor mental health, particularly amongst young men. Men under the age of 50 are most likely to take their own lives and men working in construction are particularly vulnerable to this.
“...low-skilled male construction workers had the greatest risk, at 3.7 times above the national average. Building finishing trades, including plasterers, painters and decorators, had a risk twice the national average”
Source: Guardian March 17th 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/17/male-construction-workers-greatest-risk-suicide-england-study-finds
In response to increasing calls to improve and increase mental health support, the UK Government launched an initiative which aims to create one million Mental Health First Aiders to help people recognise and respond effectively to signs of mental health problems in others.
Built By Us’s very own Rachael Palmer (Project Coordinator) is a trained Mental Health First Aider and she shared her experience with us.
Rachael how and why did you get involved?
I came across the opportunity to train by chance, having spoken with someone who works in a training organisation. I was really interested in getting a better understanding of mental health issues and the ways in which I might be able to help. I must admit the training really opened my eyes to the variety of ways people can encounter mental health issues, the impact it’s having on communities and individuals and the ways in which people try to cope for example by self-medicating (with drugs and alcohol) rather than seeking help.
What does the training entail?
I completed a two-day course which explored and explained how to recognise when someone may be having symptoms in the workplace of anxiety or depression, for example, they may have decreased productivity or inconsistent levels of performance. Or they may have changed their approach to their work for example by not being methodical.
It was helpful to go through the language and terms used and what they really mean. So much of what we understand about mental health and the terminology comes through the media so people can often have the wrong idea about how people behave or exhibit symptoms. Not everyone who is suffering from depression, a very common illness, will experience it in the same way, not everyone is in bed with the curtains drawn.
We also went through how, as a first aider, we can offer support and/or refer people when needed to other forms of support. It’s incredibly important to ask open and non-judgmental questions, show empathy and encourage people to get as much support as possible.
Taking part really increased my understanding and awareness of the issues, I feel like it helped me to becme even more open. I understand how important and valuable listening to others is.
What are 3 key things you took from the training?
1. That it’s OK to ask “Are you OK?” “Would you like some help?” lots of us may notice changes in our colleagues but don’t feel empowered to ask these questions - I do now.
2. Mental health illnesses are far more common than we think. Lots of people are going to work and struggling with issues.
3. Often people don’t reach out because they feel that there may be negative consequences for them having revealed that they need help. But it doesn’t have to restrict you or be negative for your career, your life isn’t over.
Can anyone be an Mental Health First Aider?
Yes, absolutely! Taking on the role means that you are prepared and have permission to be of assistance to another. And it’s so important that there are people in the workplace who have this role, as we spend so much of our time at work.
I believe that increasing awareness of mental health is invaluable. We have needed mental health to be on par with physical health in work and in society as a whole for a long time and thankfully there are now a number of ways in which to find out more about Mental Health First Aid and to train, enabling each one of us to make a difference wherever we work.
Resources and further reading
Download the new guidance for employers at: mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/resources/for-workplaces/implementing-mhfa-employer-guide
The enhanced guidance for Mental Health First Aiders can be found at: mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/resources/for-workplaces/mhfa-guide-to-your-role
They also run the Construction Helpline offering confidential financial and emotional support to the construction community available 24/7. Please call 0345 605 1956.
Lighthouse has also launched a free app - developed to support construction workers’ mental health (available on Apple and Android) https://www.constructionindustryhelpline.com/our-app.html