Professional Builder attended a Mental Health First Aid course hosted by Willmott Dixon.
Created in Australia in 2000, the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme has since gone global and aims to teach members of the public how to assist someone who is developing a mental health issue or is already in a mental health crisis. The issues the programme covers include: depression, anxiety disorders and substance misuse. The crises covered include: suicidal thoughts and behaviours and self-harm.
Each year, one in four people experience a mental health issue.
The aim of MHFA is to extend help and awareness of mental health beyond the realm of skilled professionals and into the social, familial and work networks that surround the person in need of help. It is a ‘first aid’ course in the sense that the goal is quick action, picking up on tell-tale signs early on that something might be of concern. Furthermore, and importantly, the aim is to pass any at risk individuals into the care of professional services.
Raising awareness and equipping work colleagues, family members and friends across the UK with the tools to combat mental health issues also has the effect of reducing the stigma attached.
Mental health in construction
The construction industry has taken tremendous strides over the past two years in opening up about issues, but the fact remains that men are more likely than women to suffer and more needs to be done to create a working environment on site that facilitates talk, understanding and assistance.
Throughout each of the areas covered by the course, the same approach is taken. This approach is summed up as ALGEE.
A – Approach the person, assess and assist with any crisis
L – Listen and communicate non-judgementally
G – Give support and information
E – Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
E – Encourage other supports
That first step, approaching someone you think may be in need of help and instigating a conversation on the topic of mental health can be the hardest part. It can feel inappropriate or jarring to ask a colleague outright how they are, and tell them that you are concerned they’re not okay. It’s important to remember to not be scared of causing offense. If your colleague does genuinely need help, getting to the bottom of the issue is more important than being polite.
It is important to genuinely listen to the person and hear what they have to say. It may not be helpful to charge in with your own opinions and diagnoses. Far more important is to create a space free from judgement, where your colleague might feel more comfortable to open up.
The person with mental health issues may not be aware of the level of professional help that is available to them or how to access the help that is available. You can act as the encouragement they may need to seek professional help as well as support from friends and family.
Stress is a big factor in causing mental health issues. It’s not the only factor, of course, but it is particularly prevalent in the construction industry. According to the CIOB, 58 per cent of the UK’s construction workforce feels that the industry has become more stressful in the last 15 years and ‘low-skilled male trades’ are 3.7 times more like to commit suicide than the average. In a work environment that involves long hours, demanding physical work and often a pressure to “keep your chin up”, stress can often build up inside with no outlet.
The MHFA advises thinking about each individual as having an in-built stress container. You can pour all of life’s stresses into this container but it doesn’t have a lid, so unless you regularly open the tap at the bottom, the container will overflow. In real terms, an overflow might represent a mental health crisis, whilst the tap could be a social activity that takes your mind off of your problems and allows you to see things in a different light. What’s more, the size of everybody’s containers is different and can be affected by your background and life experiences.
As important as it is to raise awareness of the prevalence of mental health issues in the building industries, and many charities are doing a great job of that already, it is equally important to equip employers and employees with the tools to identify and approach mental health issues.