As the UK bursts into action for Mental Health Awareness Week this week (13th-17th May 2019), Jonathan Walls, Assistant Building Manager with Willmott Dixon, has his own reasons for wanting to get the message across.
BACK IN 2017, Willmott Dixon launched the All Safe Minds campaign to raise awareness of the shocking statistics surrounding mental health issues within the UK construction sector. As part of the initiative, hundreds of personnel across Willmott Dixon sites nationwide have been training as Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAs), to provide a confidential support network to their industry colleagues.
In 2018, Jonathan took part in the intensive 2-day training programme. A few days later, Jonathan, who is also a member of his local rugby club, lost a close friend and fellow rugby player, to suicide.
Jonathan recalls, “There were absolutely no signs and everything had seemed normal. No one could have predicted what happened and the loss of our friend has shaken the club to its absolute core.”
Around the time of his friends suicide, Jonathan was writing his university dissertation. The impact of losing his friend was such that Jonathan was compelled to start his dissertation again with a new title; ‘Addressing the current perception of Mental Health in the Construction Industry’.
Jonathan’s research triggered feedback from colleagues across the sector, and whilst he acknowledges that massive progress has been made through initiatives such as All Safe Minds, Jonathan is keen to stress that the industry needs to do more.
He explains, “The highest instances of suicide, depression and other mental health related illnesses, are found amongst the low-skilled trades; but that’s not to say there aren’t issues affecting the rest of the industry. A survey I conducted as part of my dissertation revealed that a significant number of colleagues in white-collar positions are also experiencing difficulties. It’s also a sad fact that reluctance to speak up is still an issue.
“Ideally, we need to see more MHFA training across the industry as a whole, and in a perfect world every line manager would be an MHFA. UK construction has made huge strides over the past few years and it’s great to hear that our MHFAs are seeing an increase in people coming forward for support, so we need to build on that progress and continue to forge forward. Talking about our mental fitness should be as natural to us as talking about our physical health. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
Encouraging the conversation
To encourage the conversation over Mental Health Awareness Week, Willmott Dixon’s Assistant People Manager, Matthew Kershaw, has arranged a number of events across the company’s Local Construction Offices. These range from simple ideas such as arranging for fresh fruit to be made available in every site cabin and office, to more ‘hands on’ experiences like massages, resilience training, meditation and yoga sessions. Senior managers will also be encouraged to have lunch with their teams to help continuously bring people closer together.
A ‘Health and Wellbeing Care Pack’ will also be sent to the homes of every employee. This will include a full timetable of events happening during the week, information and statistics on mental health and a list of support resources available for anyone needing to talk.
Jonathan concludes, “I am only too aware that undetected mental health issues can lead to tragic and unnecessary loss. We need to be passionate about changing the perception of mental health in our industry with a view to affecting positive change over coming months and years. This is a massive sector and together we can make massive change.”
For more information on the All Safe Minds initiative visit the Willmott Dixon website, or search #AllSafeMinds on Twitter.