Mental health awareness and cultural understanding has changed hugely in the last few years. It doesn’t seem that long ago this was an unspoken matter in our industry.
Now, thanks to national campaigns and, as we have seen, high-profile people opening up about their own mental health problems, it is part of our national debate and the stigma associated with it is starting to break down.
Has the highways and construction industry kept pace with this change of attitudes? I’d say it has not, but there are glimmers of hope.
As CN’s survey highlights, mental health issues remain prevalent in our sector. Is it partly down to our male-dominated industry’s reluctance to open up about our emotions, or could it be a wider issue?
Outside the worlds of highways and construction, there is now much more acceptance of the fact that physical and mental health are two sides of the same coin – they are interlinked and equally crucial to people’s wellbeing. But this notion has been slow to permeate our industry.
People are sadly still ashamed to have and talk about very common health conditions. It is also true that we, as employers, have in the past avoided understanding employee needs as well as we should have.
“While I am saddened by the CN survey figures and the slow pace of change, I am also hopeful for the future”
I was most concerned by the number of people who had considered taking their own life – about a quarter of respondents of CN’s survey. It is, frankly, impossible not to be.
What is all the more troubling is the fact that 90 per cent of those people didn’t approach their employer for support. No doubt this is closely linked to the fact that 82 per cent of respondents said there is a stigma surrounding mental health.
Regrettably I have seen the effects of this form of illness first hand, having lost a colleague – also a family friend – in recent years. He spoke openly about his illness and how he felt, and this has driven me to improve the understanding and support we give to our colleagues and friends.
We’re trying to address these issues at Amey now with a fresh impetus. On 11 May, I will be signing the Time to Change Employer Pledge as part of Mental Health Awareness Week. As part of our pledge, we are committing to raising awareness of the importance of looking after our mental wellbeing, creating a culture where employees feel comfortable to speak up, and ensuring employees who need support are provided with it.
We’re also launching a mental health ambassador network on the same day. The ambassadors will support us in delivering this message across the business and promoting the support available to employees who need it. They will be passionate about breaking down any mental health stigma and driving change to help embed the way we think and act about mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Along with other initiatives taking place, this commitment is part of an initial three-year strategy to tackle the pressing issue of mental health and enable long-term future change.
While I am saddened by the CN survey figures and the slow pace of change, I am also hopeful for the future. If every company in our sector makes small changes we can improve awareness, tap into wider social understanding and inspire people to talk about mental health.
James Haluch is managing director for highways at Amey