Mental health needs to be recognised in the same way as physical health

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Sarah Draper


Sarah Draper


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Mental health needs to be recognised in the same way as physical health says RLB UK survey to mark World Mental Health Day.

The last six months have been challenging for everyone – with concerns about our health and economic wellbeing as well as many of us socially distancing from friends and family. Now more than ever we need to ensure that we look after and maintain our mental health and wellbeing and that of our colleagues.

An annual event, 10 October, marked World Mental Health Day with the theme ‘Mental Health for All’ prescribed by the World Federation for Mental Health. At RLB UK we work all year round with our colleagues to break down some of the myths, help change attitudes and start conversations about mental health. So we asked our team to share their views on what mental health means to them and how as an organisation we can support each other to ensure that we maintain our health and wellbeing, whether physical or mental.

Construction continues to be seen as a masculine industry with traditional masculine attributes associated with it

“Although the barriers are coming down, there often seems to be a feeling that you have to ‘man up’, control your emotions and deal with problems on your own to ‘prove yourself,” commented Steve Gillingham, Head of National Commissions, a view echoed by many including Satnam Choat, Senior Bid Coordinator, “it is no secret that the construction industry has a very masculine and tough label applied to it, and there are stereotypes, expected to be tough rather than weak.”

It’s about being there to help with no judgement

Linked to this feeling of having to suppress your emotions was the thought that more real conversations internally or externally will help to break barriers. As Ann Bentley, Global Board Director, states, “simply acknowledging that poor mental health is a major issue for millions of people and not a secret to be hidden away is a huge step forward”.

“It is key that the whole industry creates an environment where people know that they will not be judged and can openly talk about their struggles,” agrees Sarah Draper, Head of People and Culture. With Matt Summerhill, Managing Partner – Yorkshire & Humber continuing in the same vein that it isn’t just about acknowledging your own feelings and being able to talk about them but being in such a place that you can spot and support those that might be struggling.

What can we do to break the stigma and promote positive mental health?

Although the awareness of mental wellbeing has grown massively in recent times, what, as an industry, can we do to break the stigma associated with mental health?

“One of the big steps to break the stigma would be to normalise conversations about your mental state”, says Marketing Coordinator, Inese Gailane. Andrew Thomson, Environmental Manager, agrees that open cultures will allow people to recognise the factors and stress points that can lead to mental health issues. “Understanding stresses, being open and honest about lost time due to mental health, risks associated with it, and then looking at the value of positive mental health, should present grounds for greatly accelerated action”.

For many, looking after physical health helps to promote good mental health, this includes a healthy diet, stable sleep patterns and taking time to relax. Regular exercise acts as a great medicine to help us promote positive mental health – be that running, playing football, walking, gardening – any type of movement that gives you a chance to clear your headspace. “Exercise has literally been my ‘go to’ whenever I have felt down and I truly believe at times it has kept me going,” says Laura Kennedy-Watling, Executive PA. Ekaterina Nikolova, Client Development Executive elaborates, “positive mental health for me is recognising how I actually feel as a result of a situation. What is the next (small) step I can make towards resolving it?”.

Work-life balance. It is important to switch-off your mind

All of the RLB team acknowledged the importance of taking time off whenever needed as being crucial to ensure a healthy work-life balance, whether that is shutting your computer down after a workday, not checking emails on your phone before going to bed or spending time with family and friends. Any big or small action that helps to have more ‘me’ time and reconnecting with yourself is a step closer to a more positive mental health.

Lara Giles, Marketing Partner commented “In recent months our working lives have changed enormously, with so many of us working from home. I recently heard the phrase ‘living at work’, which reinforced how in some cases the boundaries really can become blurred. Now more than ever it’s so important to re-establish these boundaries and routines to separate our personal and professional lives”.

Vivianne Todhunter, Partner – Compliance & Business Improvement, still can’t believe how many businesses within the construction industry do not have mental health policies to support their people. Vivianne continues, “providing reminders of the support that’s already in place as well as looking at other resources to help support staff are all ways in which we are breaking down the stigma associated with mental health.”

We all live with mental health daily and it knows no gender, race, age or socio-economic background. Raising awareness of keeping mental health positive should not start and stop as we mark World Mental Health Day in October or Mental Health Awareness Week in May, but should continue all year through. As Craig Wynne, Associate – Digital Services Manager, says, “it’s a continuous thing which doesn’t stop because of one initiative or campaign, it has to be the ‘norm’ to think about and discuss it in order to break down barriers and the stigma associated with mental health”.