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Construction UK Magazine spoke with Dr Jane Perera from the Cardinal Clinic about Mental Health and the Construction Industry

Tell us about the Clinic and its aims:

Cardinal Clinic is an independent psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Windsor. The Clinic was founded in 1976 and remains privately owned. This means we do not have corporate shareholders to satisfy and allows us to make the best decisions for our patients and to provide the highest level of care. Our core values are to provide better mental health care in a safe, welcoming and therapeutic environment. We have a clinical body of around 50 consultant psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

What is your job role?

My role as Medical Director involves overseeing all the clinical care we provide and ensuring we adhere to all guidelines and best practices applicable to a mental health setting. As a Consultant Psychiatrist, I also see patients for assessment and diagnosis and then work with them to agree a care plan with the goal of recovery. This journey can take various routes; some patients will require an intensive approach to treatment and will be admitted as an inpatient whilst others will attend the Clinic on an outpatient basis. It’s about the right care plan for each patient.

Do you feel it is important for employers to recognise and implement strategies for mental health?

It is important for employers to recognise and implement strategies for mental health so there is parity with physical health. Stress is the number one cause of long-term work absence and the number two cause of short-term work absence in the UK.

Providing an environment which is conducive to positive mental health wellbeing is critical to today’s employers. Not only there are legal and moral implications for a company if they fail to do so, the commercial implications are significant as well. It is estimated that the cost of mental ill health to UK companies is between £33 and £42 billion per year.

It is imperative to change work cultures to ones where discussing mental health and wellbeing difficulties at work is a normal conversation; where open and honest conversations about working practices are commonplace and where employees do not feel the need to hide mental ill health for fear of compromising their careers.

Do you think there has been a rise in the number of people across the UK suffering with mental health? Have you seen many more people through your doors?

It is estimated that one in six people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem. This figure is certainly greater than it has been in the past. We too are seeing our referral numbers increase, however, this may not just relate to an increase in mental ill health. Other factors may be influencing this increase; for example, increased awareness of mental health conditions by GPs and the general public accessing information online about how to access care.

Do you feel there is a stigma for mental health especially within specific work sectors such as construction? If so, do you think it is important to try and break this stigma?

There has been a great deal of effort to reduce the stigma attached to mental health, but unfortunately it still exists. Some of this can be attributed to lack of understanding, so education is paramount. Male dominated environments such as construction do tend to have less discussion and awareness around mental health as it can still be perceived as sign of weakness – “pull yourself together” and “man up” are not conducive to good mental health, or indeed physical health. In a macho environment there is often little room for peer-support when a person is facing difficulties and there is evidence that men are less willing to seek professional support. We all have mental health so we all need to look after it.

What can employers do to ensure that their employees feel supported?

It is critical that employees feel supported if poor mental health is experienced. This requires appropriate policies at the organisational level as well as supportive behaviours from line managers. There must be visible leadership from the senior management team on mental health issues and education for all staff and managers throughout the company.

Trust is key to wellbeing and performance in the workplace; staff need to know that any disclosures won’t affect their position within the company both professionally and amongst their peers. Senior management need to introduce and visibly support the new ‘mental health aware’ culture.

Changing culture is extremely challenging and takes time and investment.  This is not a change that will happen overnight.

Despite mental health being a lot more spoken about in recent years, do you feel there is still a silent epidemic of mental health within the construction industry?

Mental health problems are influenced by many factors and some of these may be specific to the construction industry. Factors such as the pressure to meet deadlines, peaks and troughs in demand or short-term contracts may all increase the level of stress for employees. However, other industries face similar pressures and stressors and show different levels of mental ill health occurrence.

There is a link between manual work where there is physical pain and strain put on our bodies which if left untreated can affect our mental health.

What may be a more significant factor in the construction industry, is the culture.  The level of peer-support amongst employees, the macho environment and the perception of poor mental health being a weakness could be preventing employees seeking support when it’s needed.

With male and female suicides rising yearly, is it time for employers to do a lot more in your opinion? How can people boost their wellbeing at work?

In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK, this equates to one death by suicide every two hours. Men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women and the highest rate of suicide is in men aged 45-49. One reason that more men are likely to complete suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help of talk about depressive feelings. Employers should do more and implement cultural changes, provide training including mental health first aiders who provide support as well as signposting to external resources.

Employers can boost wellbeing in the workplace by:

  • Culture of openness
  • Two-way communication
  • Robust and supportive return to work policy
  • Work/life balance
  • Learning and development
  • Peer support, buddy systems and mentoring
  • Positive working relationships and social activities

You work closely with construction organisations to support staff members and help them implement strategies to create a resilient workforce, tell us about these strategies and how they help.

At Cardinal Corporate we have decades of experience of looking after employees’ mental health and wellbeing. Our expert team of psychologists have written and delivered training programmes to many organisations, across many topics.  These include:

  • Resilience for Managers
  • Resilience for Teams
  • Assertion Training
  • Mental Health Stigma Busting
  • When Cracks Start to Appear (spotting signs of mental health problems)

Alongside formal training we have worked with individual organisations to determine their needs. We can then support them through bespoke training.

Resilience helps us to understand how and why the body reacts to cortisol, the stress hormone that determines “fight or flight”. It also helps us recognise personal thinking patterns which impact on us negatively and to understand our authentic empathy level and the impact this has on our work environment.  Finally, creating a personal plan to build and increase reliance for a better work life performance and relationships at home.

What would your advice be for anyone within the construction sector who may be struggling right now and feel as though they are unable to speak out due to the stigma?

In the first instance, we would recommend making an appointment to see their GP. Think of mental health in the same way as we do physical health – you would go to the doctor if you were unwell. The GP will discuss how they are feeling and refer to the relevant services as appropriate. Sometimes it might be easier, in the first instance to talk to a family member or close friend. In a crisis they can contact NHS 111, call 999, visit A&E or call the Samaritans on 116 123.

It would be really good if an employee feels, at some point, confident to speak to their line manager about their difficulties and be offered some guidance and support; this could be suggesting seeing their GP or an appointment with occupational Health.

Dr Jane Perera

Medical Director & Consultant Psychiatrist

Cardinal Clinic is a leading private mental health clinic based in Windsor. With over 40 years’ experience, the company is dedicated to helping people struggling with mental health issues by providing treatment plans tailored to each patient’s needs to help them on their road to recovery. Cardinal Corporate was launched to help businesses support staff members dealing with mental health issues and implement strategies to ensure the overall well-being of their teams.