Andy Stevens is a self-employed builder and broadcaster, and now an ambassador for our charity. He’s passionate about the need for mental health support in construction, and has spoken honestly about his own struggles with mental health for us to share.
“I’m 6 ft 3, an ex-rugby player with a face like a kicked-in biscuit tin and I’m not the sort of person you expect to stand up and talk about this. But if one person working in construction can take something from this, then it’ll help.”
Tracing his struggle with mental health back to his childhood, the father of two continues: “I was used as a punchbag, the cane and belt would often come out. At the time, you don’t know any different, you think that’s normal.”
Several years ago Andy faced an overwhelming storm of problems: workplace stress, a failing marriage, and faltering relationships. Eventually, he identified himself as the common denominator. He followed a friend’s suggestion to attend a trauma centre, where was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety stemming from abuse from his childhood. This diagnosis and acknowledging his problems was the beginning of Andy’s road to recovery.
“In my opinion, mental health problems are the same as an addiction – until you admit you have a problem, you can’t do anything about it. I didn’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs, but one day I just awoke in hospital with the mental health team. Apparently, I’d called a number and the ambulance had got there just in time, but the whole thing is a blank for me. I woke up from this haze and asked the doctors what was going on.”
Andy had tried to take his own life.
“I’m certainly a whole lot better now, but most people who met me wouldn’t know I’ve had these problems. I still have bad days, and you do have dark thoughts coming back. It doesn’t take much to bring it all back, there are still triggers, and especially not seeing people during lockdown has been particularly difficult.”
Mental Health and Self-Employment
Andy identifies one of the chief reasons for mental health struggles in construction is the large number of people in the industry who are self-employed
“I’ve had no training in running a business, managing tax returns, negotiating contracts, and if you’re not prepared for it then construction can be brutal. One thing complex PTSD does is screw up your brain, so if staff don’t show up or gear is late to arrive, something simple like an email can take days to do.
Andy believes that while larger organisations have well-established mental health support, smaller companies and sole traders do not know how to access the support they need, while working in a culture that makes it difficult to talk about such things.
“The vast majority of tradespeople will be self-employed at some point, and so those coming through need the support to prepare for that. I still struggle to run a business sometimes, as you don’t know how to do it all, training for this needs to be put in place.
“Big firms have the time, money and resources to do it well, though the average micro/SME with a small number of staff doesn’t. One day I had a twenty-eight-year-old brickie come in and tell me he was ending it that night. He’d been caught cheating and speeding and couldn’t see a way out, but I took the time to sit and chat with him. We need a proper body where people like that can get the mental, physical and financial support and advice that they need.”
“When you have mental health problems, it’s something that never fully goes away. I’ve had 14 operations related to rugby injuries but that is nothing compared to the pain mental health can bring. The difference with mental health is that you can’t see it. You can have a great run, but then a tiny trigger sets you back. It’s still talked about like it’s not real, and nobody knows how to cope or deal with it.
“Construction is still a largely male industry, and you’re not going to have a 6ft 4 skinhead who’s covered in tattoos come to work and say ‘Lads, I’m struggling’. Until we can have that, it will just keep spiralling out of control. Covid has been horrible, and work used to be an escape for some.”
“You’re so busy on a job that you don’t have the time to research it. You’re up at 6am, loading the van, picking someone up, going to work, there until 4pm, go and look at a job, then go and price it up, respond to emails, and suddenly its 11pm and you haven’t eaten yet. You go to bed, get up and repeat. There needs to be the support for these small tradespeople so they know where they can go.
“These people are undervalued, and have a lot more to give than just building homes and offices. People may be discounted from support groups because they’re covered in sand and cement, plaster, tile adhesive etc. Because their Sunday best is jeans and a T shirt. But these are the people we need to make sure are supported as they are the backbone of the construction industry.”
“And everything I’ve talked about is why the Lighthouse Club’s cause is one very close to my heart, I know how important it is to be able to reach out for support. As Charity Ambassador for the Lighthouse Club, I want to do everything I can to raise awareness of the excellent work they do.”
Andy is currently working on an innovative fundraising project for our charity called Perfect 10 and you can find out more here.