Professional Builder profiles a charity that is hoping to make the difference in the battle to improve mental health in the construction industry.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 42 and construction industry workers are disproportionately represented in those statistics. That’s why Mates in Mind was set up – to improve and address mental health in construction.
In 2017 Mates in Mind launched a pilot scheme which included, amongst others, Balfour Beatty, Careys, Heathrow, and Thames Tideway. It reached approximately 700 workers and was designed to raise awareness of the issue, but also to guide employees towards the available support networks. A commonplace of depression and related illnesses is that the sufferer might not even be aware themselves that they have a problem, so one of the core messages was simply to look out for our friends, family members and colleagues.
Since its launch, organisations large and small have asked Mates in Mind for guidance in addressing the welfare of their workers, and the problem is indeed pressing, as Mates in Mind’s Stephen Haynes explains: “At one end of the spectrum is severe mental illness; conditions that impact on our perception of reality, like bi-polar, severe depression of schizophrenia, which affect about 1 – 4 in every 100 at any given time. More commonly, around 1 – 4 people will experience a mental health issue in the form of extreme manifestations of day-to-day emotions that can lead to anxiety or depression. What is common to all is that, just as we have a level of physical health, each and every one of us has a state of mental health.”
In fact, a fifth of the population admits to feeling anxious most or all of the time, citing financial concerns and the pace of daily life as causes. Half of people with severe conditions receive no treatment at all, and men are still far more reluctant to admit they might be struggling than women – and the stereotypes of gender are deep-rooted in our society. “Studies have also shown that men who present symptoms, such as sleeplessness, to their doctor are far more likely to be prescribed medication than women,” explains Stephen, “so there is actually a different approach to the sexes at professional level.” Given that the construction industry is still an 89 per cent male dominated sector this clearly has an impact on its workers. Indeed, three quarters of employees do not believe that their employer is in a position to recognise the problem in its workforce, or does enough.
All of which is a recipe for tragically high rates of suicide amongst those who make their living in the built environment. “There are over 500 recorded suicides in the sector, every year,” declares Stephen, “but that’s a figure which could be much higher when you consider that many fatalities recorded as deaths by misadventure or by accident could actually be suicide, and the more junior or less skilled members of staff are at greater risk. The common denominator of these statistics is that most have not reached out for support, either to those close to them or for professional help.”
“Our initial 2017 pilot has evolved into a formal programme, which has gone on to develop a network of over 190 Supporter organisations through which we have reached over 185,000 workers with our message. This means we have surpassed our initial goal of reaching 100,000 workers in our first year.
“We’re addressing all of the root causes, whether they be stress, financial pressures, or drug and alcohol abuse, whilst also raising awareness and encouraging conversations. It’s about creating a safe space where individuals can find help, and building relationships with colleagues and superiors, and we want to help organisations on that journey. That’s why Mates in Mind prides itself on providing a programme for addressing mental health in the workplace which is bespoke to that organisation, and we will assess where they are now and what they want to achieve. That could range from access to a nationwide network of counsellors, to technical support for managers.”
The difference between our physical and mental conditions, of course, is that the latter is hidden in plain sight. It’s simply not possible to tell just from looking at someone if they are suffering from a debilitating level of depression – and that makes communication key. “People will generally only reach out for support at a time of crisis,” concludes Stephen. “If you remove the stigma associated with mental health issues then an individual is more likely to seek support at a much earlier stage, and that’s why the perception of the problem is central to our ambitions”.