Mental health is being taken more seriously than ever. But despite the numerous measures, initiatives and charities which have been introduced to support the wellbeing of the nation, there continues to be a silent crisis in one of the UK’s most integral sectors: the built environment.
Figures show that males working in construction are three times more likely to end their life than the national average. 43% of rail workers are suffering with a mental health condition.
More needs to be done – and the industry is crying out for it.
Earlier this year, suicide prevention charity, Samaritans collaborated with Great Western Railway to deliver a best practice guide to mental health provision in the rail industry. Their research found that there are a number of obstacles stopping workers from seeking support. Among these are a distrust in the services, stigma, fear of job loss, and a general feeling of reactive rather than proactive response from senior figures.
As passionate mental health advocates and suppliers to the country’s leading engineering organisations, Advance TRS is actively helping to reshape the industry’s attitude towards mental health. This World Mental Health Day, we asked our resident Mental Health First Aiders, Ella Gilbody and Mick Schruyers for their advice on how businesses within the built environment can enhance their approach to employee wellbeing.
What signs should employers and colleagues look for which may indicate that someone’s mental health is suffering?
EG: A change in character is often the first sign that someone is struggling. In the workplace, missed deadlines, recurrent errors and lateness are often mistaken for complacency. However, if you would consider this unusual behaviour for a colleague, it could be that their mental health is declining. Mood swings, excessive absenteeism, changes in communication and isolation are also common symptoms.
Trust your instincts. If you sense that a colleague is suffering, approach them with empathy and respect for their privacy. Offer support and direct them to a Mental Health First Aider or other appropriate persons. Encouraging open communication and providing access to resources can help employees seek the help they need.
In safety critical environments, which factors can lead to or exacerbate mental health challenges?
MS: In the UK, the estimated number of workers suffering with workplace illness is 1.4 million, with around half of these cases attributed to depression, anxiety and stress.
Frontline workers operating in safety critical environments endure high-pressure, physically demanding and potentially hazardous conditions every day. During longer projects, colleagues can be relocated, isolated from their usual support network or face long commutes that eat into important social time. In combination with irregular work hours and disrupted sleep patterns, many encounter mental health challenges.
The Construction Industry Helpline provides a 24/7 safety net for all construction workers and their families in the UK and Ireland. It’s funded by the industry and provides emergency financial aid to construction families in crisis.
UK 0345 605 1956 or ROI 1800 939 122
What steps can businesses take to reduce mental health risks in the workplace?
EG: With so much focus on mental health, there is now an abundance of hotlines, support groups and counselling services. Here, employees can access professional help tailored to their specific needs. At the very least, every business should be promoting these services.
Businesses might consider implementing programmes and policies to support employee wellbeing, including assigning Mental Health First Aiders. This all contributes to building a culture of openness, and destigmatising mental health issues within the workplace. However, it’s crucial that employers don’t offer unqualified advice. Instead, they should encourage employees to reach out to their health providers or specialists for treatment if necessary.
What steps can people take in their personal life to preserve their mental health and wellbeing?
EG: For me, it’s all about balance, as well as taking time to check in and be kind to yourself. Sometimes we need to consciously remember that we’re only human and take the pressure off.
The NHS has a range of up-to-date guidance and advice on its website
The Mental Health Foundation also have an excellent library of resources.
Why is it so important that safety critical businesses make mental health a part of everyday conversation?
MS: The first thing I’d say is that it’s not just important – it’s a responsibility. Mental state has a huge impact on our ability to make sound decisions, concentrate and respond effectively to emergencies – all of which is essential if you’re working in volatile, safety critical environments. Neglecting mental health concerns can, and do, compromise safety outcomes, leading to accidents, injuries and worse.
Incorporating mental health into everyday conversations doesn’t mean that these businesses need to become experts. It’s about building a culture where employees feel safe discussing their mental health, knowing that they will be directed to appropriate resources and support when they need it. This proactive, rather than reactive approach contributes to a healthier, more productive and engaged workforce.
Who should people talk to within a business if they are struggling with their mental health?
EG: If someone is struggling and feels comfortable to do so, they should consider speaking to their manager as a first point of contact, or Human Resources (HR) if necessary. Both can advise on the best way forward, and offer information about company policies, resources and accommodations.
More and more companies are beginning to offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP), too. These are a confidential service that provides employees and their families with counselling and other resources for a wide range of personal issues. Other businesses may have designated Mental Health First Aiders who are trained to support wellbeing initiatives.
MS: If a mental health issue is related to workplace conditions or safety concerns, health and safety representatives can assist. In some cases, employees may need to seek help from licensed mental health professionals outside of work. HR or EAP services can often provide these referrals.
If you require support, make sure to confide in a person or service that you feel comfortable with and can trust to maintain confidentiality. Keep in mind that concerns of this kind vary widely in severity. The person you talk to may depend on the nature and urgency of the issue. Check your company’s policies and procedures for the best course of action.
What measures and initiatives have Advance TRS introduced to look after its people?
EG: The wellbeing of our team is a top priority for our board of directors and senior management team. We’ve committed a significant amount of time to ensuring all employees feel supported and can access help whenever they need it.
As the company’s trained Mental Health First Aiders, Mick and I champion the business’ Employee Engagement and Wellbeing programme. We are the go-to people for any colleague seeking advice, a listening ear or guidance on how to access further support. We are available at any time, virtually, remotely or in-person, if safe to do so.
In the last year, we’ve initiated a wellness hour across our offices. This invites staff to dedicate one hour a week to supporting their personal wellness. Many choose to go to gym or yoga classes, or for a walk nearby.
MS: Our independent, online Wellbeing Hub offers impartial and confidential support via a 24-hour counselling helpline. Here, our team and their families can connect with debt, legal and child/dependent care advisors. They can also engage in a live chat with a counsellor and access a wealth of information.
For our contractors, support information, tips and referrals to agencies and organisations are distributed on our social media channels and safety bulletins. All our consultants are trained regularly in spotting the signs associated with poor mental health and can signpost to appropriate resources. This is in addition to our Mental Health Awareness Safety Bulletin, designed specifically for our working contractors.
We are working in partnership with a number of globally renowned organisations to make work a more inclusive place for all. If you’re looking for your next opportunity with a company that values and advocates for its employees’ wellbeing, contact us today.