The Mental Health Foundation tells us that around one in ten of us growing up in the UK are affected by mental health problems of some kind. This is something that needs to change.

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‘ALL FOR ONE’: CARING FOR MENTAL HEALTH IN CONSTRUCTION MUST CONTINUE POST-PANDEMIC

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is going to have huge mental health implications on the nation, and figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in July showed that the number of people in the UK affected by depression has risen from one in ten to one in five since the same time last year. As the construction industry has historically had higher-than-average rates of suicide and negative mental health, it’s crucial that we all work together in order to look after our construction workforce, especially as the second wave begins to emerge, so says executive chairman of Pagabo, Gerard Toplass.

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Going into lockdown meant that we were collectively facing multiple unknown factors. How would we adapt to home working? How would social isolation affect those particularly living alone? How would we juggle things like home schooling alongside our day-to-day roles?

In these circumstances, the mental health implications were sadly bound to be profound, and indeed a global survey of around 300,000 people by Kantar Health shows that the proportion of people experiencing depression symptoms rose from 7 per cent to 11 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

The most recent episode of our ‘Building Blocks’ podcast was all about mental health, and I was pleased to speak with industry experts Christina Colmer McHugh, director and co-founder at Moodbeam, Martin Hall, SHE director at Morgan Sindall Construction, and Dr Ruth Hartley, health and safety manager at nmcn.

All of the speakers agreed that it is in the past three to four years that we’ve seen the biggest shift in attitudes towards mental health within the construction sector specifically. Five years ago, when looking at the HSE statistics, it would have looked as though there were low levels of people reporting mental health conditions, especially within the construction industry. However, when we began to examine other data – such as the suicide rate in construction workers – it revealed that there was indeed a problem that wasn’t being picked up before it reached crisis point.

Construction is a largely male-dominated industry, and thanks to a traditionally butch stereotype, many of these workers won’t have felt particularly comfortable talking about their feelings and emotions. However, changes both within the industry and in wider society are changing this.

We now have a clearer idea not only of the scale of the mental health crisis in the sector, but crucially how we can help our workforce to have a voice, speak up and seek help when needed. Luckily, we work in an incredibly supportive industry, with a very ‘all for one’ attitude – this has never been more apparent than over the last six months and will continue to be crucial to success.

Due to their nature, construction organisations have had to ensure that the health, safety and wellbeing of a large variety of job roles has been top priority - this means everyone from office workers been able to move to working from home, to the site workers on construction sites throughout the height of the first wave. Everything from hygiene and social distancing, through to provision of appropriate technology needed to be considered.

The initial weeks of lockdown were a confusing time for us all – especially for those working on construction sites who were unsure what the lockdown would mean for them and their working arrangements.

We’ve all been impacted by the pandemic on both a professional and personal level, and for many, technology has been a crucial component in helping with this. It’s allowed many of us to continue with our day-to-day roles from home, when ten years ago we would have really struggled to do so. It has also allowed us to stay in contact with our colleagues from a social perspective, with many organisations setting up social calls, virtual quizzes and online fitness classes.

All of our speakers noted how important contact of a more social nature has been, and it was really heartening to hear that as much as our speakers were checking in on their staff, their staff were also checking in on them as well.

The most recent guidelines from the government have included the message to work from home where possible, but our connectivity will us to help manage the return to the office at the appropriate moment when these guidelines are lifted.

There are many individuals across the industry who will be extremely nervous about returning to the workplace – and in some cases will be even more anxious given the second wave of the virus we are currently facing. Martin noted that one-to-one sessions will prove invaluable in helping the anxieties around this process, allowing him to discuss at length the safety measures in place for his employees.

Whether it’s making sure there is a reassuring, friendly face to greet employees on return to the office to walk them through the safety measures in place, or a line manager supporting a member of staff with any struggles or concerns, it’s important that we adopt an ‘extra mile’ attitude to looking after our staff not just now, but as an ongoing measure.

Only a couple of decades ago, we looked at the rates of accidents on site – and thanks to cross-industry collaboration we’ve been able to identify the root cause and make changes to bring those accident rates right down. We now need to do the same with mental health.

It’s crucial that we build mental health resilience into our organisations and business plans. If we continue to simply deal with the aftereffects rather than the root cause, we will never be able to fully tackle the problem. This is why Pagabo forged its recently announced partnership with Moodbeam.

By working with this innovative health tech brand, we are aiming to promote the wellbeing of everyone working in the industry through use of a simple, self-reporting tool. Since the initial site trials earlier in the year, we have received real, actionable feedback – which is exactly what we need to take the next steps. Moodbeam is already working hard to implement changes to its service to suit the construction industry, such as the creation of a clippable version of the device for those physical roles for which a wristband wouldn’t be suited.

As Moodbeam’s co-founder Christina quite succinctly said at the conclusion of our discussion, empathy is absolutely the key to making a difference. We are all in this together, and that’s why ultimately, we need to collaborate across the industry in order to help everyone.

You can listen to the most recent episode of Pagabo’s ‘Building Blocks’ podcast on Anchor and YouTube

Christina has a passion for people and punctuation. Spending her career working in PR and as a professional journalist, she has the knack for a good story and a passion for all things Moodbeam.

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