Mental health is a subject that is often avoided like the plague. While people are more than happy to bang on for hours about back pain and sports injuries, there is still a stigma associated with stress, depression and the like. But it looks like that’s finally changing.*
Raising awareness around mental health.
In Australia, rates of suicide in the construction industry are higher than average for men and over twice the national average for young men. For both employers and employees in the industry, there need to be increased awareness of the signs and a willingness to talk about these issues openly.
And it would seem industry awareness is increasing. Many larger companies and organisations are introducing Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and ‘wellness’ programs either in-house or outsourcing to specialist providers. But there are many ways that smaller players can get on board too.
“I think it really is about making sure you understand the signs of stress and other mental health issues in the people you work with through your own education and self-awareness. If you are an employer, creating an environment where you encourage people to talk (which is always difficult with males) is going to go a long way in supporting them,” says AccessEAP CEO Sally Kirkright.
Empower your employees.
Employers have a duty of care to provide a physically and psychologically safe workplace but it’s also important to encourage people to build their own resilience skills. The added challenge with the construction industry is that job insecurity, the hours of work and limited flexibility lead to an inability to empower people.
According to Sally, one of the best things you can do if you suspect a work mate is experiencing depression is simply to ask them about it.
“The minute you ask, people feel much better – just being invited to have a conversation is a really good step towards them seeking support. But you also need to realise that you’re not a councillor or a psychologist.”
Ask the question.
“The simplest way of asking someone is just saying, ‘I have noticed that you don’t seem to be quite the same, are you ok?’. But before you ask that question, think about what you will do if they reply ‘no I’m not’.”
According to Sally, you should suggest they talk to somebody. So make sure that your work environment has someone to talk to. If your work has an EAP then that’s who you’d suggest they call. If your business doesn’t have an EAP you would suggest they go and speak to their doctor and have a conversation.
Look for the signs.
Tradies are notorious for bottling up their problems. There’s a perception that it’s weak to admit you’re having a hard time but this needs to change.
“Make sure that, as a business owner or co-worker, you know what the signs are to look out for.
It could be simply that someone might be a bit more irritable, they may have lost weight or put on weight, might be short tempered or introverted. And if that’s the case, just ask the question,” says Sally.
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*We endeavour to provide accurate material for Australian businesses consistent with Australian health and safety laws and guidelines; however, this material is for reference only and is not designed to be, nor should it be regarded as professional advice.