In the constantly changing landscape of workplace health and safety, the conversation often revolves around traditional topics such as accident prevention, ergonomic solutions, or adhering to regulatory guidelines. However, an emerging issue that requires equal attention is the correlation between mental health and substance use in the workplace. This article delves into this critical link, emphasising the importance of recognising and addressing this issue. Additionally, we will hear from Andy Stevens, whose personal journey he recently detailed on the HSE Network Podcast has led him to become a strong advocate for mental health in the construction industry.
The Silent Struggle
Mental health problems are more widespread than commonly acknowledged, affecting approximately one in four individuals in the UK annually. This significant statistic highlights the urgent need to recognise and address the mental health challenges faced by employees. Andy Stevens, an entrepreneur with extensive experience in the construction industry, has shared his own struggle with complex PTSD, anxiety, and depression, which was only diagnosed six years ago. This is a stark reminder that mental health concerns can be concealed beneath a facade of normalcy, emphasising the importance of candid conversations about these issues. It is critical that organisations prioritise mental health support for their employees, promoting a culture of openness and mutual support.
The Relationship Between Mental Health and Substance Use
The correlation between mental health issues and substance use, such as drugs and alcohol, is a noteworthy aspect of the ongoing discourse on mental health. In the construction industry, for instance, Andy Stevens observes that mental health challenges and substance use often coincide. The prevalent culture of alcohol consumption or casual drug use can provide an easy escape for those grappling with the stress and emotional turmoil that accompany mental health issues.
Andy’s personal journey is reflective of a pattern that many individuals may be familiar with. When faced with personal difficulties, he, like countless others, turned to alcohol and drugs as a temporary means of numbing the pain. However, what starts as a temporary relief can quickly snowball into a much more significant problem, affecting both mental health and work performance. In Andy’s case, alcohol consumption was a gateway to further substance use, contributing to his mental health deterioration.
Preventative Measures: A Necessity
The personal experiences of Andy serve as a testament to the pressing need for preventive measures to address the intricate relationship between mental health and substance use in the workplace. His journey highlights the ease with which substances become a tempting option for those seeking an emotional escape, given their wide availability and ease of access. Although opting for healthier alternatives such as exercise, meditation, or seeking professional help requires more effort and intention, resorting to alcohol or drugs is a quick fix that may exacerbate the underlying problems. Thus, organisations must provide a conducive environment that promotes the well-being of employees, including access to mental health resources and support services.
The Alarming Rise in Construction Worker Suicides
Construction workers are one of the most vulnerable groups to mental health struggles, as evidenced by the sobering statistic that the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates. Although official figures indicate over 500 suicides among construction workers in 2021, many believe that the actual number is significantly higher due to the classification of these cases.
The rising suicide rates among construction workers necessitate a collective effort to address their mental health needs. Traditional approaches may no longer be effective, and it is crucial to engage with individuals facing these challenges proactively. Encouraging early intervention, providing support, and fostering open dialogue can assist in combating the worrying increase in construction worker suicides.
The Shifting Landscape of Mental Health Awareness
The construction industry has made significant progress in promoting mental health awareness among employees. Gone are the days when workers were expected to suppress their mental health concerns and just “get on with it.” Nowadays, there is a growing recognition of the importance of addressing these issues in a supportive and compassionate manner. However, despite this progress, there is still much work to be done, particularly in ensuring that this understanding and support is effectively communicated and implemented by management.
One of the key factors that Andy highlights is the need for better management practices and greater empathy towards employees. By treating workers with respect, acknowledging their struggles, and providing meaningful support, leaders can foster a more positive and productive work environment. As research has shown, even a simple question like “How are you?” twice can make a significant difference in how employees feel about their job and their sense of well-being. By demonstrating genuine care and concern, managers can help to create a culture that values mental health and supports the needs of all employees.
A Personal Perspective on Managing Mental Health
Andy also shared some personal strategies for managing his mental health, which could be beneficial for others as well. Andy’s approach comprises various activities, such as nature walks, healthy eating, staying active, and exploring holistic therapies. Nature walks provide Andy with solace, enabling him to unwind, de-stress, and escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. A balanced diet plays a crucial role in maintaining Andy’s mental well-being. After indulging in unhealthy eating during a vacation, returning to healthy eating had a significant positive impact on Andy’s overall mood and energy levels. Staying active is not just limited to hitting the gym for Andy but also includes regular walks, engaging in physical activities, and spending quality time with his dog, which he describes as the best form of companionship. Additionally, Andy explores alternative therapies such as the emotional freedom technique or tapping, which is a holistic therapy that has proven effective for him. Exploring such alternative therapies can be transformative in managing mental health.
The relationship between mental health and substance use in the workplace is a crucial matter that requires our collective attention. This personal account of Andy Stevens, an industry expert, sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals and accentuates the significance of proactive support, preventative measures, and open dialogue. The construction industry, in particular, can benefit from the implementation of policies that prioritise the mental health of workers. By treating employees with respect and providing them with the necessary support, we can foster healthier, safer, and more productive workplaces. Moreover, the simple act of inquiring twice about someone’s well-being can have a profound impact, promoting a culture of empathy and understanding. In an era where mental health is at the forefront of social discussions, it is time for all industries to participate and take steps towards building a more supportive and inclusive work environment.
*This article has been sponsored by our partners Abbott, established providers of workplace toxicology and occupational health services.
- Mental Health NHS Egland >> Mental Health. Last Accessed November 2023.
- British Safety Council. Mental Health in Construction. Suicides in construction | mates in mind | mental health (britsafe.org). Last Accessed October 2023.