World Mental Health Day: celebrating changemaking

On World Mental Health Day, Sir Robert McAlpine's Karen Brookes offers a reminder of the importance of open, honest conversations about mental health and the importance of having wellbeing support at work. 

Karen Brookes, pictured, is board director, people & infrastructure, at Sir Robert McAlpine.

Today marks World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme, as set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is ‘Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. The importance of this is something we all know to be true – and yet, in our industry, sadly, perhaps we know it more than most.

Stress, anxiety and depression are responsible for nearly a third of all work-related illnesses in our industry, but the scale of stigma surrounding conversations about feelings and mental illness in construction is still significant. 

Clearly, the industry retains something of a ‘macho’ image. Earlier this summer for example, mental wellbeing charity the Samaritans had to release a statement in defence of builders speaking about their feelings following an article ridiculing them as ‘woke’. 

The issue should be a pre-eminent concern for us all, and today offers a reminder of the importance of open, honest conversations about mental health and the importance of having wellbeing support at work. 

It is also a chance to amplify and normalise those essential initiatives being employed across the sector that are making a lifesaving difference to individuals, their families and their colleagues.

Bringing support within the firm

It goes without saying that mental health is a complex landscape and it requires expert knowledge and training. The difficulty for many is accessing, or knowing where to look for that knowledge and training. 

Workplace schemes, such as mental health first aiders, provide that first accessible port of call to individuals needing support. The first aider represents a qualified person to speak to and can also act as a signpost to any further support an individual may need.

There is no one size fits all approach to mental healthcare, and initiatives such as Acting Out Productions offer a more experiential approach to mental health training. Team members are empowered in their knowledge of mental health and how to support their colleagues by acting out real-life scenarios. 

We have been working with Acting Out Productions at Sir Robert McAlpine, and it has boosted our team’s confidence in identifying signs of struggle and how they can provide support.

Like Acting Out Productions, there are a number of other great third-parties that can support our businesses to turn the tide on construction’s mental health crisis. Charity Mates in Mind trains the skills and confidence to address the stigma of mental health in the workplace and The Lighthouse Club is a construction-specific charity that provides a helpline, support and training to construction workers and their families. 

Businesses should look to their own initiatives too. ‘Don’t Keep it under Your Hard Hat’ is a campaign we have been running at Sir Robert McAlpine to encourage more conversations around mental health. Safe spaces have been created on site for all to access and discuss anything playing on their mind, whether related to the workplace or personal life. 

These conversations are difficult to begin of course, and perhaps uncomfortable to hold. Yet by making them more commonplace, each individual opening up about their fears and worries is changing the stigma about mental health and changing lives.

Amidst the uncertainty, stress and grief of the pandemic, businesses should also ensure they have reflected on its lessons and developed business practice in line with the new world of work. 

Rightfully so, employees have found a new voice to call upon their firms to allow flexible working practices that can balance their careers with family responsibilities, a social life, hobbies and taking care of their physical health. 

These evolving practices, such as flexible hours, location, or days of the week, are supported by employees across the board as an initiative that would help them manage their mental health – 84%, to be exact, according to a survey from FlexJobs.

It’s time to turn the tide

Much like our mental health itself, it is important to take the time to reflect on the wonderful schemes and organisations seeking to change the mental health crisis. You never know who it might reach. So, if you are a business, take note and take action, and if you are an individual suffering, know there are people out there to listen and places to turn to for support – and this time next year, let’s reflect on how far we have come. 

Karen Brookes is board director, people & infrastructure, at Sir Robert McAlpine.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.