Louise Ward: Conversation can break down barriers around suicide and mental health

Over the last 40 years, we have seen a step change in the safety performance of workplaces in Britain. There have been improvements in workplace health as well, however, the issue of mental health remains a real challenge. One in six workers in the UK are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, according to Mind, which means that over 350,000 people are affected by mental ill-health at any one time. Suicide is estimated to be killing 10 times more construction workers than falls from height.

To make a difference we need to see more inspirational leadership on this important issue.

Our mental wellbeing is influenced by a variety of factors. Physical illness or injury generally manifests itself through visible symptoms, obvious to those around us, presenting opportunities for them to offer help or support. Meanwhile, mental health issues, worries, stress and depression are not clearly identifiable; people often suffer in silence, feeling isolated and alone.

Conversation can break down these barriers, allow people to share their concerns and offer support to each other. A growing number of organisations train and employ mental health first aiders to support this process.

If we are to break down the stigma around mental health, we need to inspire people to talk about how they feel and the things that are worrying or concerning them. We can all get involved in leading this change by asking open questions and taking the time to listen to others.

We all believe that everyone has a right to go home fit and well every day. To make a real difference, we need to have the confidence to demonstrate this in our everyday actions and show our commitment to looking after the people with whom we work.

Information, advice and support is available on the Mates in Mind website, a charitable programme to improve and promote positive mental health in the construction industry.

Louise Ward is policy and communications director at the British Safety Council

In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted for free at any time on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.org.