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Supporting Mental Health in Construction is a priority for CITB

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (9 to 15 May 2022) CITB is pledging its continuing support to training and understanding.

A study compiled by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and CITB, highlighted the toll poor mental health is taking: Research showed 26% of construction workers had experienced suicidal thoughts and 91% felt overwhelmed. Tragically 2 construction workers take their own lives each day.

CITB has already partnered with Laing O’Rourke, the Lighthouse Club and Samaritans to train 8000 mental health first aiders in the work place making mental health information and support, accessible and relatable to small and medium construction employers. CITB is set to announce further support for an initiative which will include apprentices.

Since 2018, CITB has awarded £1,550,396 of funding to mental health projects. And over £1.3m in grants have been paid to support mental health first aid and awareness courses and mental health champions, supporting nearly 950 employers.

CITB, CEO Tim Balcon said: “I am under no illusion that there are many reasons why construction has a poor record on mental health. Factors include working away from home; heavy workloads; long working hours; prejudice; late payments and job insecurity. Poor management practices and a lack of understanding can add to the problem, too.

“Construction needs to look after its workforce. When all workers can access support, without fear of stigma, lives will be saved and attracting new entrants will be easier.

“Our support for mental health training and initiatives will continue and will be outlined in our new Business Plan due to be launched later this month.”

Bill Hill, CEO of the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity added “Training mental health first aiders is a lifesaver. One person can make a huge difference simply by listening and supporting someone who feels that they have nowhere to turn to.”

This is a story told by a Mental Health First aider with anonymity preserved for confidentiality.

The situation I was presented with was seeing a 30-year-old construction ground worker at the health centre on site who attended saying that they felt ‘down’ and had ‘had enough’. He had just been made redundant and although this is common in the construction industry and he previously had agency work lined up, problems and changes at home coincided with the job loss.

He had split from his girlfriend, who was the mother of one of his children six weeks prior to losing his job. He had moved out of their shared home and as a result only had work lodgings whilst working away from home. He also had two children with a previous partner.

He was now about to become homeless and jobless with no family to support him. His mother died when he was young, his father left and his brother was distant towards him. He had a poor credit rating so could not rent and was feeling homesick.

He was talking about life not being worth living anymore and “how construction sites are dangerous at the best of times, let alone when you feel like this” which I took to be a reference to potential self-harm or at least a cry for help. He admitted to thoughts of suicide but said the thought of leaving his children stopped him from acting on these thoughts.

I had previously given him the phone number for the Construction Industry Helpline run by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, a charity who specialise in supporting construction workers and their families through financial, family and mental health problems. When I arranged to meet with him the next day, he had not called the number and was now at a point where he could not move forward or make a decision.

He was trying to sort out too many things at once and he needed help prioritising his problems. Together, we wrote a priority action list, putting his housing needs and requirement for urgent GP input at the top. I then encouraged him to call the Construction Industry Helpline from my office as his ‘one major step for the day’ to achieve. He said he had nothing else to lose and called.

He was on the phone for 30 minutes and allowed me to listen to the conversation so I can appreciate how he felt that he was being listened to. They clearly understood the difficult and often chaotic lives led by construction workers and none of his issues were new to them. When he came off the phone, he smiled and said, “someone is actually helping.”

Bill added, “This story had a positive ending, but sadly, for many of our construction colleagues, circumstances just like this end in tragedy. With support from CITB and the construction industry we need to take action now. Just one small step can make all the difference and we encourage everyone to ask if someone is ok. As well as training we also provide a 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline providing a range of free and confidential support, which is complemented by a free Self Support App. Our free text HARDHAT to 85258 service provides yet another route to support, along with our Lighthouse Beacons who offer a safe space for people to share concerns”

CITB is set to announce funding to support apprentices.

FE construction tutors will be trained to be Mental Health First Aiders so they can support construction apprentices during their learning. Apprentices will be given mental health awareness training too so they have the knowledge and education during learning, at the start of, and through, their career in construction. There will also be one to one support.

For further mental health support and resources please visit our partner organisation, the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity.