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What is the answer for structured support to prevent mental health in construction?

Construction worker depressed

Louise Collins discusses a possible prevention for mental health in construction

Now I am just at the beginning of my journey into the incredibly complex world of mental health (my mental health first aid trainer course starts in a few days) and as I move forward, I thought it would be a positive idea to document my thoughts, experiences, progression etc. Firstly, I feel like it would be useful to see how both myself and the construction industry develop and learn how to deal with this issue, but also, the feedback, conversations and openness of those within our industry is inviable as we search for the more effective solutions to the issue. And let’s not beat around the bush, it’s a big issue, both within construction and nationally.

As I have started to learn and explore mental health, I have frequently found myself in situations where I can start the conversation of mental health with groups of construction site-based workers within my daily work. And there are two things that I find are always present.

  1. There is still a stigma. Despite all the positive work that has taken place, the improvement of awareness and support services, there is still something that is holding those who are struggling back from opening up and seeking help.
  2. I always get the sense that those who are struggling (although they don’t admit it) would rather get help discreetly. They don’t want a fuss, they don’t want to be removed from work or want any special treatment. They don’t want their direct work colleagues to know.  That they want to access the help and support in their own time and their own pace.

Now both these issues are proving to be problematic. For me, the first issue of stigma is self-sustaining. We all know that the stats regarding mental health in construction are incredibly high (1/4 construction works have experienced mental ill health) The problem so far as I can see is that these are stats, not real people. No-one is talking about their issues, everyone thinks they are the only ones, so no-one talks about their issues, and so on. So how do we break this cycle?

construction mental health safety

The second issue of seeking help discreetly has a few underlining causes. We are all very aware that men have a harder time asking for help when they need it, and a lot of what I see in the way of offering help is “speak to your MHFA” or “contact the management through our app or a specific email address” I would love to hear what the feedback is on the uptake of these offers but I have a feeling it would be very low.

I believe the worry of those who they work with finding out, plus the uncertainty that if they disclose they are struggling may affect their employment, and adding in the fact that I don’t believe or see how those who they are being signposted to can actually have a positive effect on their issues, plus I think that some live in hope that one day they will just wake up feeling better again and so don’t want to start something they won’t be able to stop and remove themselves from easily, all build up to the offers of help being made available just are not suitable.

Now I have thought about what we can do as an industry to start to tackle these obstacles, and my first thought is about how we capture our vulnerable people when construction is such a mobile workforce? 

So, considering my previous two issues, plus the need to be able to contact our mobile workforce is digital technology the answer?

Could a digital platform, made available to only construction workers, which creates an environment where they can safely share experience and offer peer to peer support, where they can access the support they feel is best suited to them, in their own time and at their own pace and do it in a way which keeps them as anonymous as possible be a much more affective answer? This platform would be open to all trades, all construction companies, ethnic groups, nationalities and job roles contained within the construction industry. 

Now it has been well documented that digital tech such as social media can create a negative effect for the user’s mental health. Everyone interacts with digital tech in different ways, and mental health is a very complex and individual subject, so creating a digital environment that is suitable for all in an overwhelming challenge.  

I recently attended a conference put on by the Mental Health Foundation where the topic being discussed was: Prevention with digital technologies. One of the guest speakers was Professor. Simon Gilbody from University of York, who was involved in a very comprehensive study the effectiveness of digital platforms in preventing mental health issues developing to more long term and recurring conditions.

Prof. Gilbody broke down the criteria used to assess the success of various platforms

Affordability – Is it cheaper than our current strategy?

Practicability – Is it easy to use?

Effectiveness – Does it work in the real world?

Acceptability – Do people like it enough it to keep using it?

Safety – Is it safe to use?

Equity – Is it usable by less affluent, old, less educated, non-English speaking?

So, I guess there lies my challenge. Can it be created? It is a more effective solution?

I look forward to your thoughts and opinions

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