Construction workers ‘need mental health support’

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Health Assured team

16 March 2017

Suicide kills six times as many workers as falling from heights   Figures from the Samaritans suggest suicide kills six times as many construction workers as falling from heights. There were 6,122 recorded deaths by suicide in the UK in 2014 of which 76% were men. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and the highest suicide rate is among males aged 45-59.   Many employees feel they cannot talk to their employer about their mental health, and this can be particularly true in male-dominated cultures such as building and construction. In addition, employers do not always know how to broach the topic or how to support good mental health in the workplace. Key triggers that affect mental health can include worries about finances, relationships and feeling unable to cope.   “We’re urging employers to not just implement [support] for their workforce and forget about it, but actively promote the benefits too,”   Excerpt from Health Insurance Daily, read the full article here.   Supporting an employee with suicidal thoughts   When an employee tells us they feel suicidal, it can create instant fear and confusion; what do I say and what do I need to do?   One of the most helpful things you can do at that moment is to remain calm and appear non-judgemental. Try to help the person feel that they are safe to talk and safe to share what’s going on, then you can explore the best course of action.   At times of emotional turmoil and confusion, people can often attempt to verbalise this and refer to themselves as being suicidal. Not everyone who uses this language will be actively at risk of suicide or self-harm.   Talking to someone about their suicidal thoughts is not going to make the situation worse, in fact, talking openly about the suicidal thoughts and feelings can help someone feel safe, heard and valued.   An employee that has disclosed that they are having suicidal thoughts has reached a place where they can no longer contain the emotional pain that they’re experiencing and often cannot see another way out of their situation; having open and frank discussions can quickly identify support options that the employee might not have considered.   In any discussion, it’s helpful to try and answer the below questions:
  • Does anyone else know how you’re feeling?
  • Where is their support coming from? Family, partner, friends etc.
  • Have they seen their GP to discuss their emotional health?
  • Are they prescribed any medication to help their mood and if so, are they taking it?
  • Has anything changed recently? Are they exposed to additional life stress?
  • Have they ever felt like this before, if so, what helped them come through it?
  If the employee states that they are suicidal and you have immediate concerns, do not leave them unattended; try to find out sensitively what is causing the distress and who is offering support outside of work.   Ask the employee if they’ve made a plan and if they’re intending to act on it. If the employee tells you that they are going to hurt themselves today, contact the police via 999. If it isn’t an emergency and they’re prepared to stay with you, you can contact the police via 101 non-emergency.   The police will attend and assess the situation in conjunction with the employee and together decide what happens next. Before emergency services arrive, it would be helpful for them to know the answers to the above questions if you’re able to obtain them.   The World Health Organisation estimate that approximately 1 million people will die from suicide each year, we can all learn from this. What to look out for:
  • Recent terminal health diagnoses for themselves or a loved one
  • Chronic pain
  • Bereavement
  • Separation / divorce
  • Substance misuse / addictive behaviour
  • Domestic violence and abuse
  • Recent exposure to trauma
  What you can do:
  • Try to encourage openness within your working environment – it’s good to talk
  • Reassure employees that help is available
  • Consider appointing a wellbeing champion to promote support options & services
  • Mental Health training, stress management & raising awareness of self-care
  • Check in with employees. What’s changed recently?
  • Ask the employee what they need from you to feel supported
  • Develop a safety plan together, structure and routine can be comforting when someone is overwhelmed.
  • Set small, achievable goals, a sense of achievement can significantly raise mood
  • Encourage contact with loved ones if they’ve recently become socially isolated or withdrawn
  • Can they re-engage with their hobbies/interests?
  • Flexibility, temporarily reducing working hours and responsibilities if needed
  • Try to offer hope - suicidal feelings are temporary
  • Let them know you care about their welfare
  Be proactive A suicidal employee might not reach out for help but it doesn’t mean they don’t want it. Don’t be afraid to bring it up, we may not fully understand suicidal behaviour, but we can empathise and let the employee know they’re not alone.  As a manager you too can seek support from the employee assistance programme, to help with such situations.

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