Russells steps up on mental health

 |  Category: CSR Charity Employees Health and Safety

Special focus at this time of year

Russells Construction Olivia Lea and Billy Kilby

Manchester main contractor Russells Construction has launched a new initiative to support workers suffering from mental health concerns. The leading regional construction company has recruited and trained a volunteer team of Mental Health First Aiders as part of a bid to provide support to employees and sub-contractors who may need help.

Members of staff from across the business, including site-based teams and those at head office, undertook an official training programme, learning about the causes and symptoms of mental health problems, alongside the strategies and solutions for helping people get through tough times.

The company has also pledged its support to the Lighthouse Club, a charity dedicated to improving mental health within the construction industry. Literature and advice from the Lighthouse Club and details of its Construction Helpline are provided to all new starters, and a company-wide awareness campaign is set to begin in the new year.

Billy Kilby, Russells’ head of health and safety, will head up the Action Group for Mental Health with HR manager Olivia Lea. Members of staff and sub-contractors who need support will be encouraged to meet confidentially with one of the first aiders to talk about the issues affecting them and to discuss ways the company could help them.

He said: “We are working in partnership with the Lighthouse Club and Construction Industry Helpline to promote mental health support and as a business we will be taking the issue very seriously as we look to the future.

“As mental health awareness has grown in recent years, it’s become clear that many people will suffer from issues to various degrees at some point in their lives. Sometimes they just need a little space and they’ll come through it in time, others need significant intervention and support.

“Knowing where to go and who to ask isn’t always easy, which is why we’ve launched the Action Group for Mental Health and trained our Mental Health First Aiders as that first point of contact.

“While we’re all here for our friends and colleagues, we know it’s not easy for folk to open up, particularly in an industry like construction which is acknowledged as one of the worst for people clamming up rather than seeking help.

“This initiative demonstrates very clearly that, as a company and a cohort of colleagues, we will be supportive of anyone in need of help. There is no shame in admitting your feelings, and you don’t have to struggle alone. Every single one of us would come to the aid of someone with a physical injury, and hopefully this initiative will break down some barriers and make it just as simple for someone to ask for help with mental health issues.”

The Mental Health First Aiders are trained to recognise symptoms of mental health problems, or substance abuse which can be a symptom or a problem itself. They are available for anyone to approach for an informal discussion, and can be called upon by worried colleagues to initiate a discussion with someone who may need assistance.

They will support people if they need to speak to their boss or their family about the problem, to advise where to find additional support or even urge them to seek medical help.

Billy added: “If a colleague or subbie starts coming in late, stops chatting, or their performance is off, we’ll soon know that there’s something wrong. We want to help them to sort things out, for themselves and for the business. They might just need the pressure taking off for a few days or a move to another project, or it could be that they require longer-terms professional support such as counselling or medication.

“There is help available and we can signpost them to way to access it. Just by having someone to talk to can be a huge comfort to a person who has retreated into themselves or is putting on a brave face.

“Having a company ethos of supporting each other, combined with the specialist training of the Mental Health First Aiders, hopefully means we can identify and help people much more effectively than ever before.”

All Russells staff and sub-contractors are also encouraged to download the Construction Industry Helpline app which provides a daily reminder for employees to check in with regards their mental health. If they reply negatively to the question “How are you today?” they are given a range of options and suggestions of how to seek advice.

The Lighthouse Club, which was established to provide practical and emotional support for construction workers and their families at times of illness or injury, says two construction workers take their own life every day in the UK, and stress, depression and anxiety account for one fifth of all work-related illness.

The charity runs the 24/7 confidential Construction Industry Helpline for workers and their families 0345 605 1956.

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