Raising mental health awareness in construction
Mental health is a subject which means a lot to me.
As Mental Health Awareness Week approaches, I'd like to share my experiences on a professional and personal level.
As CITB Chief Executive, I am keenly aware of the work industry must do to improve the mental health of its workforce because let’s be blunt, the statistics are grim.
Every day two construction workers take their own life. And while work to transform construction’s culture has begun, all of us have a lot more to do.
From a personal point of view, my son, who is training to be a mental health nurse, has a severe mental health condition. I know the impact mental illness can have on an individual, their family, friends, and work, so I’ve a lot to share with you.
Let’s start with construction.
There are several reasons why construction has a poor record on mental health. Factors include: working away from home; heavy workloads; long working hours; late payments and job insecurity. Poor management practices and a lack of understanding can add to the problem, too. The triggers for mental illness are always unique to the individual and we must recognise this.
Construction needs to look after its workforce. When all workers can access support, without fear of stigma, lives will be saved, attracting new entrants will be easier and the skills gap will close.
Supporting mental health in construction is a CITB priority. Since 2018 CITB has supported nearly 950 employers – and awarded £1,550,396 of funding to mental health projects. Over £1.3m in grants have been paid to support mental health first aid & awareness courses and mental health champions.
Our August 2021 report Mental Health and Construction: a coordinated approach, outlined the scale of the mental health challenge facing industry along with solutions to improve workplace culture.
The report concluded that there is a lack of integrated mental health support across industry. Collaboration is key to tackling this issue. This is why CITB is working closely with the Construction Leadership Council to coordinate industry’s response and provide improved help. The report included examples of good practice and I encourage anyone with an interest in mental health and construction to look at it.
I’ve learnt a lot about mental health during my career and as a father, the more I learn the more I realise I don’t know.
Closer to home my son became ill in his mid-teens. It was hard, as a parent, to tell what was normal teen anxiety, and what was something more serious. This is because he downplayed his symptoms for fear of not looking cool. “I’m fine, Dad”, was his parting comment to me before he made his last suicide attempt.
He endured a repeated cycle of crash and burn then recovery. There were years of attempted suicides followed by hopes of a better future.
His condition is the same now as it was through those crash and burn years however, the turning point was getting the right help and control over the illness. He now speaks up when he needs help and has learnt techniques to deal with it if he needs to. This is why he can build his life towards a positive future. I’ve discovered the true meaning of qualities such as ambition, perseverance, courage, and inner strength from my son.
My son reached out and received help from many professionals. However, just as important was his friends. Just having someone to talk to, knowing that a friend would be there without judgement, or knowing that the usual mates’ banter wasn’t the right thing to do, was the one thing that kept him going.
The greatest lesson I've learnt through his illness is that the brain is an organ similar to the heart, lungs and liver. We readily accept when these organs go wrong yet struggle to understand situations when our brain doesn’t function properly. We hide it. And that’s when problems begin. My son’s mental illness has made him stronger and is not his defining feature.
I am under no illusion on the progress the construction industry must urgently make on mental health. Our support for mental health training and initiatives will continue and will be outlined in our new Business Plan.
We are currently partnering with Laing O’Rourke, Lighthouse Club and Samaritans to make mental health information and support, accessible and relatable to small and medium construction employers. We are also working on a commission to support apprentices’ mental health as they commence their journey into construction.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is loneliness, a problem made worse for many people by the pandemic.
The pace of modern life is fast but if we can make a little more time for each other, as my son’s friends did for him, it could make a world of difference.
It may even save a life.
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog mental health support is available. The Lighthouse Club can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 0345 609 1956. Samaritans can be contacted at any time from any phone for free: 116 123.
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