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Mental Health Awareness Week: Why managing stress matters


This year, Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is shining a spotlight on stress. With one in six adults experiencing depression, anxiety or issues relating to stress at any one time – and with 12.5M working days lost due to work related stress, depression or anxiety last year – helping employees to manage their stress should be a priority for all employers.

This is especially true in the construction sector, where transient working patterns, long periods away from home and demanding hours can all contribute to a stressful lifestyle. We need to be conscious of overwhelming stress as something that can lead to mental ill health, more so than even in an industry where male site workers are three times more likely to die by suicide than the average UK male.

So how can construction employers take practical steps to help their employees address their stress?

Here, Jaan Madan, Workplace Lead at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, offers some key advice.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural response when it senses danger. We all experience stress and need it to function, and healthy amounts of stress can be a motivator at work. But when stress interferes with our lives, it becomes a problem. Too much stress, for too long, can make us ill. If unaddressed, stress can cause mental health issues like depression or anxiety and harm our physical health.

Raise awareness

Stress can arise from a range of factors, both positive and negative, spanning across work, home and environmental factors. But regardless of where stress comes from, it’s important for all employees to understand what it is and how they can gain control over it. Communicating basic information about what stress is, what it looks like, what its impacts are and how it can be tackled is a straightforward way to help familiarise the issue.

Communicating the signs of stress is also key here. Each person will show stress in different ways, but common signs include: becoming overly angry or irritable, becoming withdrawn or losing confidence, or frequent minor illness. Displaying posters or other materials with this information can be a good first step to raising awareness

Start the conversation

Raising awareness can also empower people to speak up and one of the most effective ways of relieving stress is through conversation. Encouraging people to speak out if something is concerning them is therefore really important.

In practical terms, managers can play an important role in helping these conversations to take place. Even taking ten minutes every week with each team member to ask, ‘how are you?’, could be vital in helping those struggling with stress to open up and get access to further support.

Encourage healthy behaviours

Thinking upstream about how we stay healthy is also key. Eating a varied diet and taking time to do the things you enjoy are some of the foundations of good mental health. However, many employees in construction work long, irregular hours, which can mean that these important habits become neglected. Offering tips and advice on how to adapt your diet to reduce stress levels – such as avoiding too much sugar, alcohol or caffeine – and providing information on how to have a balanced diet can help everyone to make healthier choices.

Act now

We want to empower people to talk about stress and ensure it’s something everyone feels comfortable addressing in every workplace. That’s why, this week, MHFA England has launched the ‘Address Your Stress’ toolkit: a set of free, simple and practical tips and tools to help everyone better understand and manage their stress.

Download the toolkit now and find out more about Mental Health First Aid training for your workplace to take the next step.

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