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World Mental Health Day 2018 – What we can do to break the stigma and build awareness: Guest blog by UCEM Principal, Ashley Wheaton
Posted on: 10 October, 2018
We need to talk about mental health.
Mental health issues are not going away and have been in existence since the beginning of time, but it is only recently that these have been brought out into the open and given the due respect they deserve.
In the world of work, employees are often loath to admit that they are suffering from mental health problems for a variety of reasons: they feel it will make them look ‘weak’; they fear disclosure will provide their employer with ammunition to criticise the work they are doing; they don’t feel they are in a sympathetic environment… the list goes on.
Every day, there are people going into work battling mental health problems and bottling it all up, and where has this got us? We have a workforce creaking at the seams, lacking the encouragement to perform effectively which cumulatively hinders the progress of business and the economy alike.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the construction industry, in which the statistics are startling:
– Working in construction, you are six times more likely to die from suicide than a fall from a height
– There were 1,419 suicides among those working in skilled construction and building trades between 2011 and 2015, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data – more than in any other industry (GenieBelt 2017)
– Male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male (UK Construction Online 2018).
Construction News – the UK’s leading source of construction industry news – this year conducted its second annual mental health survey where the responses of more than 1,300 employees within the industry revealed further causes for concern (Alderson 2018).
Following on from the publication’s first such survey in April 2017, the results were similarly damning a year on with statistics such as 24% of respondents had considered taking their own life; 30% had taken time off due to mental health issues/stress (63% of which had not told their employer that this was the reason for their absence); and 81% said there is still a stigma surrounding mental health at work in the construction industry.
You might say: ‘why, as Principal of an institution which provides degrees for those in the construction industry, are you choosing to highlight such damning statistics about that industry?’ and my answer would be that we have to get this into the open and work to address the situation. I earlier asked the rhetorical question: ‘where has bottling up mental health issues got us?’ and the answer lies in the unflattering statistics provided above.
Not only is there a personal cost to this largely hidden health issue but there is a cost to the workplace when mental health problems are allowed to stagnate. The NBS (National Building Specification) reports that mental health issues lead to people taking almost 70 million days off sick per year costing the UK economy £70-100 billion per year (GenieBelt 2017). Those who go into work despite feeling unwell due to the state of their mental health, conversely, are more likely to make mistakes, putting both their own and their colleagues’ safety at risk.
Addressing mental health issues requires a change of outlook. Encouragingly, the construction industry, whilst clearly requiring more work to improve the statistics surrounding mental health, has identified the issue and has been proactive in addressing it. A multitude of construction-specific mental health services have been set up including Mates in Mind and the Construction Industry Helpline. The Construction Financial Management Association has created a guide to look out for mental health conditions so those suffering can identify the issue in the first place.
We need to address this issue head on and build awareness of mental health problems, as well as directing people to relevant advice and support so that we can inspire those who are suffering with the tools to manage their condition effectively. Employers should take the lead so that employees feel they are working in a welcoming environment in which they can confide in management should they suffer from mental health problems so appropriate action can be taken.
Campaigns such as today’s World Mental Health Day should be supported by employers to facilitate awareness.
Here at UCEM, we are marking World Mental Health Day by having a ‘Curry and Chaat’ event here at our Horizons office in Reading, whereby staff are invited to drop in and sit with colleagues they may not usually talk with. Additionally, Natasha Collins, UCEM Real Estate Tutor, will be running a wellbeing webinar jointly with Richard Higgins, our Disability and Wellbeing Advisor, which is aimed at our students primarily, although staff are also welcome to attend.
This isn’t superficial though. We are proud to have nine Mental Health First Aiders who are there to support our staff with any issues they may be experiencing. On the student side, our Disability and Wellbeing Advisor, Richard Higgins, assists those suffering from mental health conditions by putting a support plan in place for those who inform him of their condition. This support plan includes recommendations on arrangements for their coursework and exams, as well as providing relevant advice and signposts to professional support services which students can access. We also engage with London Nightline – a confidential, listening, support and practical information service for students – which is advertised on our virtual learning environment (VLE) and provides impartial support for our students.
We feel we are playing an important role as a higher education institution to support those suffering mental health problems which, no doubt, will please the Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, who last month called upon university leaders to make the mental health of their students a priority. We can only applaud such a sentiment and hope this leads to positive change in higher education. The construction industry, too, is proactively addressing the issue but mental health is universal and we should all get behind World Mental Health Day and heed the advice in support of the initiative.
The first step is acknowledging the issue, then it’s a case of addressing it as effectively as possible. There is enough advice out there to support positive action and a more understanding society. Mental health problems will not go away. We must all work together to generate awareness, break the stigma and do our best to support those suffering in silence.