8th October 2020

Fighting mental ill health at Van Elle

Construction Mental Health Suicide Prevention

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation revealed that almost half the country had felt anxious or worried during the summer months, with around one-in-six people saying they had felt “hopeless”.

The survey also revealed that around 10% of people had experienced recent suicidal thoughts.

The construction industry is one of the worst affected for people experiencing mental ill health and the issue is well publicised in the industry.

Every day, one in four people working in the UK construction industry will contemplate suicide every day, and on average two people will decide to take their own life. These horrifying statistics are only underlined by the fact that suicide is a bigger killer on UK construction sites than falls from heights.

As an employer of more than 500 people, most of which are site-based employees, Van Elle understands that there is a duty of care that goes beyond physical health and safety. Mental health first aiders have been trained across the business to offer initial response to someone experiencing difficulties. Their job is to spot the signs of someone who might be struggling and get them the support they need before it becomes too big to handle.

Van Elle’s Angela Blakesley, a Health, Safety, Quality and Environmental Advisor, is helping to drive awareness of mental health and as a trainer for Mental Health England, the issue is something which she is incredibly passionate about.

Angela said: “People don’t treat their mental health like their physical health and just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

“Typically, in a male dominated environment like a construction site, it’s hard for people to admit that their having a problem or to talk about their feelings and that just leads to more serious problems. The stigma around mental health means that people find it hard to open up and get help.”

Van Elle currently has 16 mental health first aiders, and is aiming to keep training so that one in ten of its entire team have the skills and knowledge to support someone on difficulty.

Angela said: “A lot of our team are working away from home a lot in different parts of the country, away from their families and friends for long periods of time and we need to make sure that we look after them. The more people we have trained in mental health first aid, the more people we can ultimately help.”

Since the initial Covid outbreak in March 2020, Van Elle has ramped up its mental health first aid training in order to help those returning from furlough who may have additional anxieties.

Angela said: “There’s no doubt that the pandemic and the national lockdown has had a negative impact on a lot of people’s mental health. Being off work for long periods of time and feeling isolated is something many people have felt at times.

“In construction, where many people have been working through the initial lockdown and facing risks every day, it’s understandable that emotions such as anxiety and stress are heightened.

“During the lockdown, we’ve been running supervisor mental health training to help our team deal with those feeling added pressure or to help those returning from furlough who may feel anxious about the situation.”

Van Elle’s training and assessment centre offers courses on mental health first aid, providing training to make attendees “mental health aware” and challenges the stigma around the subject.

Angela said: “Through education we can highlight the problems we’re seeing and reduce the risk of things like depression, stress, anxiety and other connected issues.

“As well as equipping our staff with the necessary skills to recognise the signs, we are educating staff around resilience in order to prevent mental ill health and as part of our wider mental health and wellbeing strategy.”

For more information on mental health first aid training with Van Elle, which can now be completed remotely, visit our course page below.

Mental Health First Aid Training