MENTAL HEALTH AT WORK: Why we need to bring all industries with us
Between 2011 to 2015 there were more suicides in construction than in any other profession*. More than 1,400 construction workers took their own lives in this period which is a shocking statistic. Male-dominated industries like construction (among many others) have long ignored mental health issues and the result is literally fatal. Although much work is being done to raise awareness of mental health, we need to work harder to remove the stigma of mental illnesses in industries like this and provide the relevant support for those suffering or those at risk.
I’ve often encountered resistance to wellbeing programmes for the fear it will be ‘laughed out of the boardroom’ but there’s nothing funny about depression, anxiety or suicide and there are too many suffering in silence as a result of this attitude. We cannot just accept it in these industries, just like we cannot accept sexism or homophobia, because bravado and machoism have too long reigned as the norm. There are things that can be done to improve mental health and make employees feel supported and safe in this area.
But how do we make change in an industry that is so deep-rooted in the tradition of ‘men being men’? The first thing to accept it that change is possible. We have to remember a time when suffering from mental illnesses would’ve had you locked up in an asylum. We’ve come a long way but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Change has to start at the top. Is your leadership team equipped to deal with mental health or could they be adding to the problem? Pressure from managers is cited as one of the biggest stressors in the workplace so you want to make sure your management team aren’t putting unnecessary pressure on their team members. Your leaders are the ones with the ability to make change happen in this area so they need to set the tone for the conversation.
When you’re promoting someone into a leadership position, are you confident that they are equipped to deal with mental health related issues? Do they have the empathy and emotional intelligence required? These are all things that can be developed through training and coaching.
Time away from the office or site can be tricky but it’s important to send the message that it’s time well spent. Taking the time to learn the tools to take care of your mental health and that of others can prevent time off down the line, so really you would be saving time. You can offer workshops in resilience, which are extremely effective in teaching skills to overcome challenges and thrive in the difficult situations that will undoubtedly arise in the workplace and beyond. Stress management, mindfulness and emotional intelligence are all good options too.
Are your HR team ready to tackle this issue? Have they done a mental health first aid course? Do they know what therapies could be recommended? Are they approachable and visible within the company? Your HR team should be prepared and trained effectively to deal with mental health at work and moreover they should have the skills to express empathy and concern when approached about the issue. Mental health first aid courses are a great place to start as a grounding in this area.
Each individual has to be accountable for making the change and that often requires bravery and the courage to step out of the mould. Speaking up about personal issues may be difficult, but if you do, you could be helping others in their own struggle. If you can see someone is suffering offer a listening ear; that can help more than you know. Remember the person in question could be in a world of pain so the last thing they need is judgement or for others not to take their illness seriously.
It’s time to slowly change a culture that is no longer working and redefine what it means to be ‘strong’ or ‘tough’. It’s a conversation worth having so we can build a positive working environment for the future and make a real difference when it comes to mental health.
(*Source: Office for National Statistics)
Luminate specialise in improving mental health at work through wellbeing programmes and workshops.