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No place for stiff upper lips over mental health

How many times have you said, ‘I’m stressed out,’ but then dismissed the way you were feeling, thinking it would pass with time?

Have you ever tried to shrug off feeling low, anxious or overwhelmed and not been able to? Perhaps you’ve just got on with it, hoping things would get better of their own accord. Because that’s life, isn’t it? And life can be tough with all its trials and tribulations.

If you’ve felt like this, you’re not alone. 

As an industry we must do more to let employees know they can discuss any mental health issues without fear of being stigmatised or, worse, discriminated against.

Legislation only goes so far

The ‘macho’ image that still abounds needs to be scrapped. Our view of mental health must move with the times, much in the same way that workers’ safety and that of sites did in 1974 with the introduction of the Health and Safety Act. There was initial pushback, accusations of bureaucratic overreaction – but that goal-setting law has driven standards up, saving thousands of lives.

However, the Health and Safety Act only goes so far in keeping people safe. Between 2010 and 2016, more than 1,400 people in the construction industry took their own lives. Suicides cause 10 times more deaths than accidents on site – it’s a fact that we cannot and should not ignore.

“It seems incredible that in this day and age there is no specific legislation pertaining to stress management”

The average number of lost work days for someone with a physical injury is three. With stress, it’s 31.

It seems incredible that in this day and age there is no specific legislation pertaining to stress management, and that we fail to capture real data about an issue that costs not just money or time, but lives.

At Murphy we are bringing mental health awareness to the fore – we back CECA’s Stop. Make a Change campaign and just last week joined 60,000 people in taking time out to discuss mental health.

As part of National Stress Awareness Month, employees can take a stress quiz and get access to stress management guidance and counselling. We work closely with our occupational health partners, Alere, and with our employee assistance programme providers, Care First, to support our staff and promote the benefits of a well-balanced lifestyle. Our staff can access a range of confidential services to help deal with the issues life throws at them both in and out of work.

Really listen

While it is easy to see and report a physical injury, it asks a lot of people to recognise in themselves that they may be experiencing mental health issues. That’s where managers and colleagues can help – talk to each other, ask how you are, and really mean it. Be willing to listen and offer support.

Let’s acknowledge as an industry and as individuals that everyone has feelings, we all experience difficulties and just putting up and shutting up is no longer an option. After all, no one’s mental health was ever improved by not talking about it.

As Prince William said last week: there can be no more stiff upper lip over mental health.

John Kinirons is director of SHESQ at Murphy

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