Human connection is a powerful thing and recent events have reminded us all how essential communication is for our mental health. However, studies reveal men are still struggling to reach out when they need help. Below, Jackie Biswell, from Apex Roofing, discusses how to protect tradesmen and encourage conversation in the workplace.
In August, a news story in Total Contractor about the NFRC backing the Samaritans’ Real People, Real Stories campaign caught my eye. The campaign aims to encourage men battling mental health issues to seek help.
The article focused on how men in our sector struggle to speak up when they are suffering – quoting the Samaritans figure that two in five men aged 20-59 in the UK need, but refuse to seek, support.
It struck me that the stiff upper lip of the past is still very much alive and well in our present culture, and that hand-in-hand with that Victorian sensibility goes the stigma associated with men displaying any form of weakness.
This is particularly concerning when you see the fallout of this inability to talk – the fact that 75% of suicides are currently among men, a trend that can be traced back historically to the beginning of the 20th century.
Why then, do the statistics show that women suffer more frequently from depressive and anxiety disorders than men?
Simple; this is predominantly because females feature regularly in figures for consultations, diagnoses and prescriptions for medication – in other words, they feel able to speak up and seek help when they are overwhelmed, while their male counterparts suffer in silence.
So, what does this mean for our industry?
Well, as a predominantly male-dominated sector it should come as no surprise that our statistics match the national picture.
In fact, just as it is one of the leading causes of death nationally, suicide is also one of the biggest killers in construction and, according to the Building Mental Health initiative, every working day two construction workers take their own lives.
It’s something that has been raised as an issue for many years now – but as a sector we are still to find a lasting solution to change a mindset.
And the global pandemic has made matters worse…
Samaritans conducted a poll of 2,000 men and found that 42% said their mental health had been negatively impacted by coronavirus.
However, the pandemic had a positive upshoot in the fact that 40% said that talking to others had helped with concerns or worries during lockdown.
Perhaps their ability to talk about their problems was the fact that everyone was in the same boat – there was a common ground.
Or perhaps it was made easier because there were alternative ways to communicate – Skype, Zoom, on the phone – which made it easier for those guys who struggle with the face-to-face communication.
But whatever the reason, this is something we need to take forward because, if the last six months have taught us anything, it has been that we all have better awareness of the value other people bring to our lives.
Treating mental health as we do physical health
It’s my opinion that as an employer, we have a duty to provide employees with a support network while treating mental health in the same way we do physical health.
Many construction companies feel the same way. I know of lots who are working with organisations to help them address mental health in the workplace and are seeking guidance on new approaches and policies they can put in place to foster change.
Some partner with organisations such as Building Mental Health, a volunteer group which provides a framework for the construction sector to provide access to mental health support.
This helps construction businesses put in place appropriate structures and systems to support their staff with mental health issues.
I also recommend information resources and training toolkits from Mates in Mind and the Samaritans, which are essential as they can help business owners like myself with guidance on how to manage employee sickness.
On top of this, they help employers develop a role in helping staff recognise where they may need to address a problem and seek outside support.
All of this goes a long way towards removing the stigma that is still associated with dealing with depression, stress and anxiety.
But while toolbox talks and training are vital, they are only part of the equation.
Sharing real stories
Communication is about conversation and this is where the Real People, Real Stories campaign by the Samaritans is going to be very important.
It focuses on sharing real stories of men that have struggled with mental health, have sought help and come out the other side of it. It shows others like them that instead of being a sign of weakness – speaking out is a brave thing to do.
And it finally casts aside those macho stereotypes in preference for those who can openly address mental health.
These have included footballers, politicians, actors, royalty – and now those in the construction sector too.
Man up? These are the men really “manning up” simply because they are redefining what that absurd saying actually means.
After all, depression, anxiety and any other mental health condition are no more or less difficult based on whether you got a Y chromosome in your DNA.