The need for mental health help is clear. While awareness of the issue is growing, so is the problem. Companies must eliminate obstacles and encourage access to mental health resources and support. There are several things in the way: the construction culture of toughness, the issue of stigma attached to mental illness, and negative coping strategies such as substance abuse. These issues are also interconnected in ways that further compound the issue.
Before we spotlight resources and best practices to help improve awareness and support, let’s reiterate the current challenges and why we must strive to create a healthy workplace that prioritizes mental health. Notably, a national study found that 60% of employees who experience mental health issues have never spoken about it to anyone at work (NAHB). That silent crisis spurs additional concerns:
- 15% of construction workers live with a substance use disorder
- Half of all construction workers will experience a diagnosable mental health problem
- Construction has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths
Role of Employers
Compassionate employers are considering ways they can support mental health, but what is the role of employers on this issue? Dr. Emily Anhalt, Co-Founder & Chief Clinical Officer of Coa, explains: “It is not an employer’s job to fix anyone’s mental health struggles. However, organizations should focus on directing employees to resources and supporting awareness and accessibility to those resources. Examples include examining therapy coverage in choice of insurance plan, adding ‘no questions asked’ mental health days, working with company leadership to destigmatize mental health care, and offering a mental health stipend to all employees. For those committed to building a healthier workplace, we offer a variety of classes that help employees and company leadership focus on good emotional health. We believe that wellness can be built into every aspect of company culture.”
What Can Employers Do?
The workplace can be an important environment for people needing access to mental health resources and support. Workplace wellness programs can identify those at risk and connect them to treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify action steps employers can take to address mental health in the workplace:
- Make mental health self-assessment tools available to all employees.
- Give employees opportunities to participate in decisions about issues that affect job stress.
- Provide managers with training to help them recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and depression in team members and encourage them to seek help from qualified mental health professionals.
- Distribute materials, such as brochures, flyers, and videos, to all employees about the signs and symptoms of poor mental health and opportunities for treatment.
- Provide free or subsidized lifestyle coaching, counseling, or self-management programs.
- Offer health insurance with no or low out-of-pocket costs for depression medications and mental health counseling.
- Offer free or subsidized clinical screenings for depression from a qualified mental health professional, followed by directed feedback and clinical referral when appropriate.
- Host seminars or workshops that address depression and stress management techniques, like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and meditation to help employees reduce anxiety and stress and improve focus and motivation.
- Create and maintain dedicated, quiet spaces for relaxation activities.
Whichever mental health resources you choose to offer, and however you decide to make mental health a priority at your workplace, know you’re taking a crucial step that will undoubtedly help your employees and their loved ones. The specific offerings will likely vary from company to company, but there are three essential best practices to keep in mind:
- Create a mentally healthy culture. People should feel a sense of connection with peers and belonging within the organization. Culture starts at the top, so it’s essential that company leaders recognize their role in helping workers feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. Further, leaders should model and communicate that “it’s ok not to be ok” and remind people to get help when it’s needed as you would for physical health conditions. Consider training managers and supervisors to understand mental health and substance misuse conditions better.
- Elevate awareness and resources. Integrate resources, information, and policies on mental health, substance misuse, suicide prevention, and worker well-being into the company’s existing functions, programs, and practices in key areas, including HR, benefits, and safety. Share an abundance of information on mental health and substance misuse, including newsletters, posters, and information about the EAP, crisis hotlines, and related resources.
- Encourage communication. In the construction world, with field workers often separated from company leadership, it’s important to find a way to foster communication and respect when it comes to mental health. Mobile workforce platforms and smartphones can help bridge that gap. Companies can regularly direct employees to complete mental health checkup forms to understand how team members feel and support those who show signs of struggle. Nurturing an open line of communication with a system in place goes a long way in creating a caring culture that values mental health.
It’s encouraging to know there is progress being made in businesses across the country to improve the lives of those struggling with mental health. Consider these examples to find an opportunity that may be the right fit for your workplace:
- Changing Construction Culture – The Cianbro Companies, a general contractor, based in Pittsfield, Maine, with 4,000 employees in the U.S., has encouraged workers to be open about mental health with a unique tactic. Instead of talking directly about mental health, Cianbro uses the analogy of a backpack to try to influence workers to make healthy choices, including seeking mental health when needed. Michael Bennett, vice president, explains: “When you get up and go to work, the company’s putting things in your backpack. Over the years, we now will actually have people referencing what’s in somebody’s backpack. It is paying off. I’ve had five discussions in the last six weeks with individuals that are dealing with anxiety and depression.”
- Monitoring & Feedback – Prudential Financial monitors the effect of supervisors on worker well-being, especially during management changes. The company conducts ongoing, anonymous surveys to gather feedback and normalizes discussion of mental health by having senior leadership share personal stories in video messages.
- Free & Accessible Assistance – Certified Angus Beef provides free wellness consultations by an on-site clinical psychologist, as well as convenient learning sessions to reduce stigma about mental health and the services available to employees.
- Integrated Insurance Coverage – The Houston Texans organization provides comprehensive and integrated physical, mental, and behavioral health insurance coverage, including round-the-clock access to employee assistance program (EAP) services. Plus, those EAP services are extended to anyone living in an employee’s home, with dedicated offerings for those caring for children or elderly parents.
Additional Resources for Mental Health Awareness
- http://joincoa.com/ – A place to work on mental and emotional health proactively. Free therapy-matchmaking is available in CA and NY.
- https://gbca.com/services/safety/mental-health-substance-abuse-awareness/– A variety of resources on mental health and substance abuse presented by the General Building Contractors Association to assist construction professionals.
- https://www.agcwa.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Mental-Health-Best-Practices-Guide-Construction-FINAL.pdf – A best practices guide for mental health intervention in construction offered by Associated General Contractors of Washington.
- https://workplacementalhealth.org/employer-resources/notice-talk-act-at-work – An e-Learning training module that supports leaders, managers, and supervisors interested in fostering a mentally healthy workplace.
- https://2tuff2talk.com/ – A collection of resources about suicide prevention in construction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is available:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.