July 20, 2024

Recognising the importance of mental health should not be a tick box exercise, says Speedy Hire

Awareness of mental health and wellbeing across society has grown significantly in the past ten years. While the construction industry has made some progress to bring conversations, facts, and statistics into the open, it continues to be challenged by barriers to access. Undoubtedly, more work is to be done with regards to self- and wider recognition of signs and symptoms of mental ill-health, as Speedy Hire point out in this article released for Mental Health Awareness Week (May 13th – 19th).

Mental health and the construction industry

Contributing factors such as the current cost of living crisis, long working hours, job security in an uncertain economic climate all impact one’s mental health. This, combined with the ‘macho’ culture that still persists in the industry, prevents people from feeling comfortable in speaking about their emotions.

While workplace stress is not unique to the construction industry, what is most concerning is the prevalence of the devastating outcomes of untreated mental ill-health. Males in the sector are three times more likely to commit suicide than those in other sectors and a quarter of construction employees in the UK have considered taking their own lives.[1] The severity of this hidden crisis cannot be overstated.

The ongoing silent struggles have resulted in charities operating in this space seeing a rise in those accessing their services. The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, (Lighthouse Charity), which provides emotional, physical and financial wellbeing support to the construction community and their families, saw 4,435 people reach out for support in 2023, a 30% increase on the previous year. While it is a positive that more people are seeking help when needed, it is also important that the industry works together in preventing mental health issues reaching a critical stage.

The role of the employer

Employers have a role to play here in ensuring that mental health and wellbeing is looked after in the workplace, just as much as an employee’s physical safety is. For the construction industry, which lags behind other industries in terms of addressing mental health, employers must go beyond surface-level support that ticks a box.  

Lighthouse Club’s #MakeItVisible campaign

Effective cultural change is necessary whereby approaches for better mental health and wellbeing are embedded in an organisation’s values.  Speedy Hire, the UK’s leading provider of tools, equipment, and plant hire service, has long been committed to promoting mental health and providing support to its team. As a partner of the Lighthouse Club Charity for over ten years, it has seen the positive impact that implementing proactive mental health-focused initiatives can have on its team.

Mental health first aiders

One key initiative is the Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs) training. Through the Lighthouse Charity, it has trained 90 of its team members to become MHFAs who play a vital role in raising visibility within the team of the support available and reducing stigma on a peer level. The reasons why team members choose to become a MHFA varies, with many keen to provide education around mental health support and lending a listening ear to those who may need it.

For others, who have witnessed the devastating consequences of poor mental health in the construction industry, the MHFA role is about trying to pre-empt and prevent mental health deterioration. Mark Russell, Speedy Hire’s Regional Manager, is one such team member who chose to become a MHFA following the loss of a team member to suicide: “After he had passed, I questioned myself for a long time if there was something more that I could have done or was there something that I missed. Becoming a MHFA has given me some tools that could possibly help prevent the same happening to someone else in the future.”

Campaigns and initiatives

Speedy Hire is also committed to supporting mental health across the industry as a whole. It has donated a new vehicle to boost resources for the Lighthouse Charity’s #MakeItVisible on-site initiative which is visiting sites around the UK and Ireland to engage with construction workers on-site to raise awareness of the resources and support available and provide opportunities to speak with the team on a one-on-one basis.

For The Lighthouse Charity, partnerships with companies like Speedy Hire are crucial to reaching those at-risk. Sarah Bolton, CEO at the Lighthouse Charity says: “Effective tackling of the issues around mental health requires meaningful collaboration with companies across our industry. Construction workers deserve access to supportive channels and resources made available to them by their employers and to feel uninhibited to seek guidance and help when needed. Our long-standing partnership with Speedy Hire is a great example of how organisations in the construction industry can make a real impact in the lives of its family of employees and build a positive, open culture that fosters life changing and lifesaving impacts.”

Speedy Hire Chief Commercial Officer, Asif Latief, is also driving cross-industry conversations around mental health through the United for Mental Strength initiative. The initiative brings together all players in the sector to collaborate on raising awareness and supporting mental wellbeing as an industry. By having leaders demonstrate it is okay to talk about mental health, Speedy Hire is also changing workplace culture from the top down.

Supporting staff

Promoting the mental health support available should be done year-round. However, as an overwhelming majority of workers (89%) don’t know how to access this support, campaigns like Mental Health Awareness Week provide a good opportunity to bring mental health to the forefront of the business and enable people to begin their journey towards positive mental health.

Education plays a large role in this. Simple yet effective activities like lunch and learn sessions, MHFA recruitment drives, talks from The Lighthouse Club, as well as myth-busting quiz activities help to embed mental health in the conversation and helping team members to realise they are not alone.

In an industry that is struggling with skills shortages, wellbeing needs to be prioritised so that current talent feels valued and encouraged to speak about their problems. Employers must move past tick box exercises and instead foster a culture of ongoing support and visibility among teams to reduce stigma and put an end to this silent epidemic.

[1] https://www.ciob.org/industry/research/Understanding-Mental-Health-Built-Environment