Addressing the Stigma of Mental Health

Addressing the Stigma of Mental Health

Texas’ construction industry continues to see exponential growth with skyline-changing builds in every major city and residential construction booming. This building boom translates into the construction industry employing more than 766,000 Texans.

With the influx of projects and workers, safety continues to be a top priority for the construction industry, and mental health cannot be overlooked. According to recent studies by the CDC, the construction and extraction occupations are among those with the highest suicide rates, with a rate nearly 200 percent higher than the average profession.  

By prioritizing and addressing the physical and mental health of the whole person, companies in any industry can create an inclusive and open environment that encourages those struggling with mental health to talk about their wellbeing. Here are three best practices for supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Break the Silence

The cyclical and transient nature of the construction workforce, along with the long hours and physical strain, can take a toll on employees. Some within the construction industry are apprehensive to talk about mental health issues and wear their self-reliance as a badge of honor.

Removing mental health from the list of taboo topics begins with a simple, open dialogue about what’s going on in the lives of people. By taking the time to listen, industry leaders create an outlet for employees to discuss issues they are experiencing. These conversations may help managers identify those who may be struggling and determine the necessary action needed. Listening to colleagues, asking questions, and directing people to qualified resources creates a safe space and promotes workplace wellness among the teams. Leaders can make headway in removing the mental health stigma by making it the subject of safety meetings and other company communications.

Support Workers

Once the conversation starts, the work to combat mental health struggles begins. Measures to shift the culture and include more open discussions are solid first steps, but true change begins when employers support their workers. There are policies companies can put in place to make mental health improvements more actionable. For instance, employers can remove the penalties associated with time off for mental health. Companies can offer rotating mental health days or offer flexibility that makes it easier for workers to ask for a day off for a therapy session or doctor’s visit. Benefits such as an employee assistance program is an anonymous way for employees to seek help on their own as well.

To help manage stress, team leads can build in time for breaks, bring in food trucks to incorporate with safety meetings, and provide team activities to help employees blow off steam. Actions like these cultivate an environment of support and transparency. However, the complexities of various job sites might limit a company’s ability to implement such practices. Therefore, leaders should review the work schedule, logistics, and staffing availability when developing wellness policies.

Free medical screenings for employees, which can identify work-related health conditions early and provide information that can improve a worker’s understanding of their overall health, offer another avenue to address mental health in a private manner. Companies can provide support programs for challenges workers face. For example, pain can affect all aspects of a worker’s life if your workforce executes physical tasks. Providing education and tools for pain management helps employees recover fully from injuries, and it may prevent subsequent mental health or substance abuse issues.

Additionally, companies can respond to obstacles by cultivating peer support groups and offer on-site mental health services while training leaders on how to respond effectively.

Taking a complete health approach creates and sustains a culture that supports the entire person. Mental health isn’t a new concept, but changes like these can impact the entire landscape of a company.

Stay vigilant

Mental health is not visible like workplace incidents; however, leadership and team members can be trained to spot the signs of mental health issues or stress. By working with human resources or community partners, companies can receive the training and tools needed to recognize mental health symptoms, lead conversations on the subject, and know what to do if they suspect someone is struggling. Conducting regular trainings surrounding mental health will keep the issues top of mind.

A deadline-oriented industry coupled with the current supply chain hurdles and personal stressors creates an environment where workers are stretched thin. However, there is hope for those in need when companies intentionally provide support and resources to workers. By implementing the proper steps, employee well-being looks much brighter.

Dennis Yung

Dennis Yung is executive vice president and general manager at Skanska, one of the world's leading project development and construction groups, where he oversees building operations for Houston and north Texas.

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