Mental Health in Construction?

Matthew Griffiths

April 1st, 2022
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There’s an often overused but often underappreciated phrase within the English language: “Seeing is believing.”

Without opening a whole can of worms, people choose to believe many aspects of life without actually having proof by sight. From beliefs, feelings, superstitions to hot topics like religion, UFOs, karma and global warming.

Yet, the latter of these, global warming, whilst we can’t see the damage to the ozone layer by looking up nor do we feel the earth warming, on the whole, we believe when scientists and governments tell us that it is in full swing.

Individually, we act on this to reduce our impact by recycling food packaging or switching to more efficient or electric cars. Within the construction industry, there’s legislation to ensure that new buildings meet ever-stricter emission targets and improve efficiency.

Proof then that we can and are willing to believe what we can’t see. So, why is it so difficult to appreciate and comprehend mental health issues?

If your colleague turns up to work with a limp or an arm in a plaster cast, you’ll probably determine that they have sprained an ankle to cause the limp or broken a bone to require the plaster cast.

The concern for their wellbeing or some gentle ribbing is likely to follow. But all the time that the limp and plaster cast is there, you’ll be regularly reminded that your colleague continues to be impaired and possibly still in pain.

But what if there’s nothing to see? How can you know if someone needs to mend or is in pain?

Looking back at that over-used under-appreciated phase above, that’s only part of it. In its fullest, and used even more infrequently, the phrase is: “Seeing in believing, but feeling is truth.” said by a 17th century English clergyman Thomas Fuller.

If feeling is truth, then without having experienced a certain feeling, how can you appreciate it, like depression or anxiety?

How a mental illness can feel

Mental health issues affect people in many forms, and it will be individual to each person, like an invisible cancer attacking your thought patterns, mood, outlook and feelings.

Whether this is depression, stress, grief or addiction, each can be difficult to recognise and diagnose, and often, the first move comes from the person who is going through the horror of poor mental health.

Furthermore, it’s impossible to determine how long it may last; a day, a month, a year. Fortunately, many people will only suffer a brief spell where their mood is low, affected by stress, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or trauma from losing a loved one.

Others can last much longer, like chronic depression, schizophrenia or addiction and may require prolonged treatment. Also, if the cause of your poor mental health is a bad work situation, a toxic relationship, financial concerns, the period of suffering can be elongated.

People who have suffered from poor mental health have described feelings such as:

  • having the weight of the world is on them
  • having a spotlight on you and everyone is staring or talking behind your back
  • a fog has descended, and it’s hard to see a way
  • are anxious about one or many things, worried about going outside
  • suffering from panic attacks
  • feeling a sense of worthlessness

If there’s a silver lining and something to keep in mind, as quick as poor mental health arrives, where things can seem hopeless, the fog of depression can blow away just as fast.

However, being marooned on your planet of despair, it can be impossible to appreciate that the next day may look and feel very different from the suffering of today.

Make sure you make it through to tomorrow.

Looking out for the signs of mental illness

We’ve established that someone suffering from poor mental health isn’t likely to rock up to work wrapped in bandages, so what are the signs to look out for:

  • Low mood
  • A change in physical appearance, perhaps showing less pride in how well they are dressed or haven’t shaved for several days
  • Loss of concentration
  • Excessively tired or low on energy
  • Withdrawn
  • Over reactive, on edge
  • Mood swings
  • Increased levels of worry and anxiety

The person suffering may experience more physical side effects like:

  • A racing mind
  • Restlessness
  • Heart palpitations or chest pains
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Lightheaded and shortness of breath
  • A loss of interest or joy from their usual activates

How people react incorrectly

The construction industry is traditionally male-dominated, with a tendency to be a bit laddish. So, it can be difficult for people to come forward and admit that they have a problem. Fearing they will be mocked or vilified.

Yet, many people still react in the wrong ways, like:

  • “Well, you never said you were depressed, so what am I supposed to do about it?”
  • “You could never do their job; it would be too stressful for you.”
  • “Pull yourself together.”
  • “Get a grip.”
  • “What, are you bipolar or something. You were fine on Friday.”
  • Guilt-tripping – “By you being off work, you have put so much pressure on me.”
  • Show impatience and irritation.
  • Ignoring them and their illness.

How can you help?

If someone has the strength and courage to stand up and speak out, it is vital that they are received in the right way and helped out as soon as possible.

  • Care
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out, ask how someone is, do they need help
  • Be there if they need to talk
  • Be patient
  • Listen
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Don’t forget about them; check in again the next day and the one after that
  • Accept (or offer) the offer for a coffee, take time to meet with someone, it may be a cry for help.

Treatment

Bouts of depression are mostly relatively short periods yet can feel extremely intense to the person suffering.

Simply identifying that there’s a problem or making changes to one’s diet, increasing exercise levels and the release of serotonin, or finding ways to release stress through the likes of meditation or yoga, can be enough to help improve one’s mental health.

Most people, though, will need to see a professional, probably their local GP, who will assess their condition and may offer medication (antidepressants) or refer them to a counsellor or Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

CPD seeks to find practical ways to encourage a positive outlook, solve stressful issues and teach techniques on coping with stress and how to destress.

Like any injury or illness, the rarest and most extreme conditions may require full-time support or hospitalisation.

What businesses should be doing

Employers have a duty of care to anyone suffering from mental health issues, meaning they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees’ health, safety and wellbeing.

Including:

  • making sure the working environment is safe
  • protecting staff from discrimination
  • carrying out risk assessments

For organisations, it’s vital to have people trained to help; as a first aider would deal with a cut finger, a mental health first aider will have the training to assist with the hidden mind wound.

A Mental Health First Aid course will train someone to:

  • Understand mental health and the factors that affect people’s wellbeing
  • Enable people to identify the signs or triggers of when someone is struggling
  • Teach how to provide non-judgmental support, from listening to finding solutions through work or further medical assistance
  • Provide reassurance and support
  • Deploy a Mental Health First Aid action plan

Organisations can also provide employees with the opportunity to attend Mental Health Drop-In sessions with trained professionals.

Summary

Deteriorating mental health will affect one in four people over their lifetime.

It’s a hidden illness that has its traits, so it’s critical to identify these to help people through their suffering as quickly as possible.

Colleagues should be patient, non-judgmental, understanding and supportive to anyone reaching out or suffering.

Organisations should provide Mental Health First Aiders and support.

Make it through to tomorrow. The world could look very different.

If you think you are suffering from mental health issues, please seek help from a friend, colleague, family member or health professional.

Alternatively, please contact:

Mind on 0300 123 3393 or via email: info@mind.org.uk

or

The Samaritans on 116 123

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

About Matthew Griffiths

Matthew takes great pleasure in combining his two professions. One has seen him give two decades of service to the construction industry, from roles as an Estimator through to sitting on Boards. The second is his passion for the written word. He now has the best of both worlds, building homes and constructing written content.

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