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Driving the conversation: Mates in Mind and mental health in construction

Joscelyne Shaw, Executive Director, Mates in Mind | British Safety Council

4 min read Partner content

As 2018 comes to a close, the conversation surrounding mental health and wellbeing across the UK, particularly within construction, has begun to take shape.

With the appointment of Mrs Doyle-Price as Britain’s first Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention, as well as pledges of £1.8 million by the government to ensure the Samaritans’ will remain free for the next four years, substantial progress is being made in improving mental wellbeing.

Within the construction industry, a number of organisations have begun to tackle the complex challenge of mental ill-health. As reports have shown, the impacts of mental ill-health within the construction sector are particularly prominent: The Office of National Statistics (ONS, 2017) reporting that the rate of suicides amongst construction workers is more than 3 times the national average.

Additionally, with recent reports showing that improvements to workplace mental wellbeing can have profound impacts not only on the wellbeing of individuals, but also on the costs to business productivity, the discussion around the topic is a timely one. According to ACAS, the estimated cost of mental ill-health to UK employers is some £30 billion each year, resulting from the cumulative costs associated with sickness absence, lost productivity and staff turnover. According to recent HSE statistics (2018)  stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 49% of working days lost due to ill health for the period 2016-17. As these figures are being more widely understood and appreciated, mental health is increasingly prioritised in conversations across UK industries.

Contributing  to this evolving conversation, this month, BBC Radio 4’s radio programme ‘All in the Mind’ airing on 27 November, explores how a change within the construction industry’s culture around mental wellbeing has begun. The segment, hosted by Claudia Hammond featured industry leaders Steve Hails, Tideway’s Director of Health, Safety & Wellbeing and RSE’s Group Director Russell Stilwell. 

The ‘All in the Mind’ programme, airing at 9 pm this evening, 27 November, explores the interviewees’ personal and professional experiences with mental health difficulties and the challenge of tackling the stigma so often associated with the topic within a predominantly male workforce. The segment also addresses how the innovative charity Mates in Mind is striving to tackle the complex challenge of mental ill-health within the construction industry.

Both Russell Stilwell, a Mates in Mind Business Champion and Steve Hails who has been chairperson of the charity since its establishment in 2016, discussed how this initiative aims to break the silence and stigma by enabling individuals to know how, when and where to get support. Importantly, they also see this work not just about ensuring a reduction in mental ill health but encouraging a state of positive wellbeing. The charity does this through bespoke support including mental health training programmes delivered to individuals across the wider sector, ranging from general awareness training, to upskilling those in manager positions and qualifying individuals as mental health first aiders.

Mates in Mind’s holistic approach to mental health, built upon the belief that there is no health without mental health, targets all areas of the industry and seeks to bring about long-lasting change. The charity’s values are also reflected in the government’s current approach to tackling mental health also. Theresa May stated during this year’s World Mental Health Day, that “we are not looking after our health if we are not looking after our mental health”.

With the topic of mental wellbeing taking precedence within the government’s agenda, and organisations energised to take action to tackle the issue, a new opportunity to transform our view and approach to mental wellbeing in the UK is emerging. Alongside the work the government are doing to provide and uphold the services the public need, charities like Mates in Mind are giving employers and their people the confidence and understanding to make this change real. The opportunity to help individuals live the healthiest lives possible is becoming a reality- therefore, it is crucial to continue to drive the conversation about mental wellbeing if the changes we are beginning to witness are to last.

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