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Promoting mental health in construction: UK Construction Media exclusive

Mental Health Awareness Week, which ran between 11th – 17th May, has become a huge part in raising awareness for mental health and wellbeing issues.

Following its success, UK Construction Media spoke to Kate Nowlan, Chief Executive of CiC – an international employee assistance provider which delivers practical and emotional support around the clock to organisations all over the world.

Kate works with leading names in the construction industry and she spoke to UK Construction Media about resilience and how it can promote good mental health within the construction world.                                                                    

The Department of Health estimates that 2.3 million working days were lost in 2013/2014 due to sickness on construction sites across Britain and much of this sickness absence is due to mental ill health. But through promoting emotional resilience, leading names in the construction industry are taking positive steps to tackle the issue and impact of mental health.

Put simply, emotional resilience is your attitude towards the people, places and things that you’re faced with – whether that’s in your personal or work life.

It is the ability you have to deal with life and when people lack resilience they often suffer from mental health issues such as stress and anxiety which, when they get too much, can cause them to be absent from work or to be present but not focused on their work which is also known as ‘presenteeism’.

The factors that can erode emotional resilience are varied and include:

  • Highly stressful or traumatic events
  • Experiencing several stressful events at the same
  • Suffering stress over a long period of time
  • Lack of control, especially in the workplace
  • Lack of social support

When people feel under pressure there are a range of symptoms that can emerge, such as headaches, back pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, mood swings, apathy, irritability, forgetfulness, poor concentration, boredom, paranoia, poor teamwork, loneliness, withdrawal, intolerance, relationship problems or heavy drinking.

If left unchecked, the dangers become more serious and can lead to burnout which is characterised by chronic sleeping disorders and exhaustion, deterioration of mental capabilities, memory loss, taking unnecessary risks, panic or anxiety attacks or severe depression and addiction.

And considering the impact of any of these symptoms on a busy construction site – or within any organisation for that matter – emphasises the potential dangers of not supporting and promoting good mental health.

Of course, it’s worth acknowledging that any given situation can feel tense and pressurised for one person whilst another might find it stimulating and exciting. And this is why emotional resilience can be a valuable and practical tool for an individual to develop in order to support their own mental health, help them identify stress triggers that are affecting them and enabling them to create strategies to cope.

When it comes to creating these strategies to enhance emotional resilience and boost mental health, there are a number of ways that individuals can be encouraged to adopt, as are outlined here.

Identify your vulnerabilities – there can’t be resilience without emotional awareness. Can you pinpoint the things that are making you feel stressed and overwhelmed?

Challenge negativity – pessimism can become a terrible habit but it can be overcome by trying to reframe any negative thoughts in a more positive light.

Work on your acceptance – resilient people know that a situation – good or bad – has to be accepted before it can be changed.

Get moving – stress of any kind is always accompanied by a build-up of stress hormones in the body that have a dramatic impact on the emotions. Working these off with regular exercise can make all the difference.

Get connected – social support is vital to strong emotional resilience, whether from friends, colleagues or family. And if you feel deeply cut off and isolated from those around you, it’s probably time to get some outside help.

Enhancing emotional resilience within an organisation will not reduce stress or improve mental health overnight, but as part of a focused initiative that encourages employees and managers to rethink their own wellbeing, it can have a longer term positive impact on absence, safety, performance and productivity for organisations and their people.