mental health: helping construction workers break down the walls.

Not a month goes by without the publication of a new report on the impact of mental illness and each time the issue becomes sharper in employers’ focuses.

In August, a survey by mental health charity Mind found a third of men (32%) said their job caused them to feel mentally unwell. That’s more than double the number (14%) who said problems outside of work contributed to poor mental health.

Compared to women, the study showed men were more likely to be affected mentally by their job but - compounding the issue - far less likely to seek assistance from their line manager than their female colleagues.

Fighting mental health.

One of the reasons for this is that men try to deal with their problems alone rather than speak out about the way they feel. This is particularly true in construction where a disproportionately high number of men suffer from a mental illness compared to other sectors.

Earlier this year I wrote how admitting to a mental health issue is not a sign of weakness but one of strength and determination to get better. Talking about your feelings can be difficult and if workers are brave enough to open up, employers must listen. 

Line managers confident.

One of the positive findings from the Mind survey is that three quarters of line managers feel confident supporting a team member but their support only works if those suffering know who to turn to. 

This week it was reported how people in London have increasingly called the Metropolitan Police Service over their mental health with estimates that one in five calls received by Britain’s largest force is related to mental health problems.

One sad case was that of a woman in Hereford who last year walked one mile with crutches at 3am to smash a shop window so that she could be arrested and given the help she needed.

Extra support.

It’s clear that the 21,000 new mental health workers promised by health secretary Jeremy Hunt can’t come soon enough but whether that is enough remains to be seen.

One of the ways of tackling mental illness in construction is to ‘normalise’ conditions so that workers feel more comfortable speaking out about how they feel.

Randstad recently surveyed 3,500 construction workers on their mental health (more next week) and one of the ideas they backed was an on-site specialist. So while mental health is not going away, providing clearly sign-posted opportunities for workers to open up would be a huge step forward. 

- Owen Goodhead is managing director of Randstad Construction, Property, Engineering 

*Randstad partners the Lighthouse charity, which provides financial and emotional support to the construction community. Their 24-hour helpline number is 03456051956.

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