Construction boss urges industry to ‘swap swagger for sympathy’ to tackle mental health problems

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A leading construction company is tackling masculine stereotypes, offsetting stigmas and starting conversations about mental health as part of a new initiative to combat industry-wide mental health problems.

Ipswich-based SEH French Building, part of One Group Construction, sent all company directors and managers, including contracts and site managers, on a two-day training course to improve awareness of mental health from the office to onsite.

And now Director Simon Girling is urging other businesses in the sector to follow suit.

Simon Girling SEH French
Simon Girling, Director of SEH French Building

“A sad truth is that almost all men will have been told to ‘man up’ or ‘toughen up’ at some point in their lives,” he said. “But a stiff upper lip doesn’t help those of us who are struggling with mental health.

“In a male-dominated industry, more construction workers are killed by suicide than falls each year So it’s vital that we all work hard to tackle this by taking a new approach to mental health in the workplace.”

Mr Girling, who has worked in the sector for 30 years said that it was only recently that people had started to address the fact that mental wellbeing was just as important as their physical health.

“Firms are constantly reminding those on site to wear safety equipment and are happy to provide workers with hours of physical safety training,” he said. “Yet, for a long time, workers were rarely, if ever, reminded to look after their mental health as well.”

Men accounted for around three-quarters of suicides registered in 2019, yet only around a third of NHS psychological therapy referrals are for men.

“The simple reason for these grossly disproportionate figures is that men just don’t feel comfortable enough to open up about their emotional struggles,” Mr Girling added. “Solving this issue begins with training – to spot mental health issues and become much more empathetic of them, too.”

Training at SEH French has included exploring the various types of illnesses that poor mental health can lead to, as well as tell-tale traits and symptoms of struggles.

“Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 and male construction site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male in the UK,” Mr Girling said. “These harrowing figures struck a chord across our group.

“As a responsible employer, we fully understand the necessity to treat our staff as equal human beings and not just workers – this aim was underlined once more by our training.

Since taking part in our training course, the working cultures in our offices and on our sites have shifted hugely. Our teams are now much more open to talking to one another about their problems and are all fully aware that it is okay to struggle from time to time.

“We have developed a genuine culture of empathy that must be instilled on sites across the nation.

“It is time for the men in our industry to stop worrying about being masculine and start worrying about being there for one another. Let’s show less swagger and more sympathy.”

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