A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine took a call in the evening from a construction worker who said his son was thinking about killing himself.
This father did not know what to do and he and his wife were panicking. I know how he felt – having dealt with issues with my son about mental health and felling hopeless in time of need. Fortunately, his employer offers a range of counseling and well-being support services, and the employee’s relative was quickly referred to a provider we knew was highly qualified. It does not always work that smoothly. In fact, the biggest difficulty we are faced with as an industry is encouraging our employees to seek help when they need it. So then, I think to myself – what if he had not called me because of feeling weak or worrying about the stigma that might get back to his co-workers?
Most of us know someone in our industry who has experienced mental-health troubles. We know how this can affect that person’s life and family and fellow workers and may also affect workplace safety and productivity. Most of us want to help but may not know the best way. In fact, fewer than 50% of people with mental-health troubles get the care they need. What can our industry do? There’s no simple answer, of course, but research suggests that it starts with two things – building a mentally healthy organization and facilitating access to appropriate service and supports.
Building a mentally healthy organization
The 2021 Pulse Survey – “Mental Health and Well Being in the Construction Industry,” offers a wealth of findings for managers who want to help their employees stay mentally fit and ready to do their best work. Of the survey respondents, 94% recognize the importance of sharing mental-health resources with workers to spread awareness of mental-health issues, reduce stigmas and encourage people to get help when it’s needed. The survey results were based on completed surveys by 1,175 people – mostly construction-company managers, in every region of the U.S.
Not surprisingly, a central finding is that management has a crucial role to play in making clear that worker well-being, mental-health awareness and suicide prevention are priorities. From supervisors up to CEOs, the message should be consistent and credible that mental health is a priority and that managers are keenly interested in talking to employees about mental health and helping them find the resources they need.
Construction has one of the highest suicide rates among all industries, and alcoholism and drug use may also be high. The survey supports the view that our industry can do much more about mental health. Whereas 93% of survey respondents agreed that improving mental health is a sound business practice, only 18% said they would openly discuss mental health issues with their fellow employees. In fact, 78% cited shame and stigma as reasons they would not seek help for mental-health troubles and substance misuse. And 77% cited fear of judgment by their peers and 55% cited job consequences. And these are managers! Clearly, we can do better as an industry, and overcoming hesitancy to seek help is a priority – and presents an opportunity.
Access to service and support
The other big opportunity is making sure employers know where and how to get help. As we discussed earlier, sharing mental-health resources was recognized by 94% of survey respondents as important. Yet, only 46% said they knew where to obtain care, according to the survey. So, here you have more than half of managers in the dark, which isn’t helpful when you consider that managers are the ones we look to guide employees toward help. What’s the best way forward?
Mental-health training for managers was rated in the survey as the top way to reach people. Whereas only 25% of the respondents said their organizations offer supervisor training, 69% thought it would be useful to offer such training. Training for employees was also seen as useful: 66% agreed that it should be on offer. Yet, only 25% said their organization offered such training. So, clearly there is an opportunity to offer more training to both supervisors and employees. Toolbox talks were also rated as helpful by 64% of the respondents. Fact sheets were rated as useful by 51%.
Employee Assistance Programs were rated as helpful by only 48% of the survey respondents. Some cited difficulties with calling a toll-free number. Others expressed doubt that the EAP is confidential, feeling that employers will learn employees are seeking help. I have seen some very effective EAPs, but we clearly need to improve the perception of EAPs and make them more credible. For example, let’s make other people aware of other useful services within an EAP, such as setting up a will, finding assisted-living services for parents, financial-planning services and other services.
My clients that have had me come and speak to them about mental health and listened as I opened up about my story have responded well when I’ve called attention to the need for paying more attention to mental health. I just had a client tell me yesterday about success that one of his managers had in his Florida office when an employee came forward asking for some help. Therefore, the trainings are working – we just need to have more of them. Your local National Alliance for Mental Health offers a great class called QPR – Question, Persuade and Refer. It concentrates on training supervisors on how to notice signs of possible suicide and how to provide help. I have had quite a few of my clients put all their supervisors those training sessions.
Locally we had started a group called WCWC – Wisconsin Construction Wellness Community – Wisconsin Construction Wellness Community (wisconwel.com). It is a group of contractors that came together to train each other on mental health and what resources are out there and how to get them out to the industry. I hope to form a non-profit group that will allow us to distribute resources that are not affiliated with one group so people can feel comfortable using them. I can put on a technical meeting for the industry for no cost or low cost. We also want to collaborate with local providers so that people know they can call a trusted person in an emergency. We recently had my fitness trainer, Kat Musni come talk to our group. Her message was about how self-care can contribute to one’s physical health and mental health
By getting the message out through so many contractors, supervisors, vendors, relatives and training classes, we are trying to make a difference. The more normal we make the conversations the more the stigma will lift and the more people will get the assistance they need, whatever that may be. I hope one day that it is just normal to talk about mental health!
– Bruce Morton is a senior loss control consultant in the Milwaukee office of Marsh & McLennan Agency. He can be reached at [email protected]