13 October 2016 | By Dan Labbad Community

First aid for mental health

Construction, finance and development company Lendlease calls for more employers to train staff in first aid for mental health as part of their duty of care

Travel back 20 years and the biggest killers on a building site were falling from height or being struck by a falling object. Thankfully, great strides have been made in on-site safety standards over the past few decades. But the construction industry still faces another killer - construction workers are now six times more likely to die from suicide than a fall.

Changing the culture

In any business, the wellbeing of workers should be paramount. The construction industry has not historically had a culture of openness when it comes to awareness of mental health issues, their potential severity, or how to tackle them. This needs to change. It’s a sad fact that the old-fashioned taboo remains, and nine out of 10 people who experience mental health issues say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. This is particularly acute in our industry, which remains a male-dominated sector and, statistically, men are less likely to discuss their vulnerabilities or health issues, particularly concerning mental illness.

The impact of unchecked mental ill health varies hugely: low self-esteem may result in dips in engagement and productivity; or a more severe case might arise, leading to deep depression and even attempted suicide, putting both that person and others’ safety at risk. What is comforting is the fact that treatment and care has an exponentially positive affect on those afflicted; often all it takes is for someone to reach out with an olive branch. In fact, almost 85 per cent of those who receive treatment see improvements in their mental health. Treatment works – and we need to improve access, particularly to talking therapies.

Offering support

Many people are uncertain about how to respond to someone who appears to be experiencing mental health difficulties. We want to change this. Lendlease is determined to improve access to treatment for employees by making sure that there are always Mental Health First Aiders available for confidential conversations and guidance. More than 400 of our employees have received Mental Health First Aid or awareness training – one in three of our people.

The two-day Mental Health First Aid training course teaches people how to spot the early signs of mental health issues and to feel confident in helping someone who is experiencing these feelings. Mental Health First Aiders are taught to reframe negative thoughts in a more positive light and support the person’s recovery.

The course provides in-depth coaching which covers topics that range from defining what mental health is to spotting the early signs that someone might need support and how to help or guide them. With this training and positive dialogue we are helping to dispel misconceptions and break down the stigma attached to mental illness – which often stems from ignorance.

Duty of care

Action on mental health has never been more necessary. We live in a sometimes irrational, ever more complex and fast-paced world. The mounting strains and inherent pressures of the working environment inevitably take their toll on our workforce. Our industry has a moral duty of care to our people and, equally, we all have a responsibility to remove stigma and educate ourselves on the causes and treatments of depression, anxiety and other stress-related illnesses.

Training Mental Health First Aiders is a crucial first step – and should go some way to meeting MHFA England’s goal to train one in every 10 of the UK’s population. I would urge others in our industry to follow our lead and help tackle the mental health crisis.

To find out more about how employers can support the wellbeing of their staff download the free MHFA England Take 10 Together toolkit