World Suicide Prevention Day – An interview with CEO Bill Hill

10th September 2020

Tell us in one sentence what the Charity does?

We are the only charity that is 100% dedicated to the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of our construction workers and their families in the UK and Ireland.

What is the Charity’s mission?

Our mission is that “no construction worker or their family should be alone in a crisis” We do this by providing a free downloadable self-help app and a free 24/7 confidential helpline. We also offer  free online interactive wellbeing workshops and we are currently managing a major nationwide project to train over 10,000 onsite mental health first aiders. You can see the bigger picture emerging from this, anyone in crisis can self help with the app, call us on the helpline or ultimately talk to somebody on our site – they should never be alone.

What is the Lighthouse Club Charity doing to support World Suicide Prevention Day? 

I’m going to be controversial here and repeat what i said during Mental Health Awareness Week in May. Cancel World Suicide Prevention Day. Why? Well, the year we cancel World Suicide Prevention Day will be because the mental health of our workforce is treated as significantly and comes as naturally as ensuring their physical safety. It will come at a time when everyone in our industry is aware of the importance of good mental wellbeing, every operation has a mental health policy and the suicide rate in construction has been significantly reduced. But we are still a very long way from that and for us every day is suicide prevention day.

We need more companies to engage, accelerate and amplify our efforts to improve our workforce wellbeing and I have sleepless nights trying to think of how we can get our services to individuals in crisis before they take their life, I am convinced that if given the opportunity we could manage to turn some away from suicide. With over 500 suicides every year in construction we are all morally obligated to be on the look out for individuals that are struggling.  We are now delivering a huge portfolio of free and widely available pro-active resources and training to ensure that organisations and individuals have many pathways to support when they need it

The construction industry can be a tough sector when it comes to talking about mental health  How much of a challenge is it to reduce the negative stigma in the industry?

With about 85% of the workforce in construction being male there is a lot of preconditioning to overcome. There are about 6,250 suicides every year in the UK, over 5,000 of which are men. In construction, it is particularly bad. Every working day we lose two construction workers to suicide – that’s over 500 per year. Construction is the number one industry for suicides, but why is this?  There are many reasons but one of the biggest is being open with our feelings. Men are not preconditioned to fully express their feelings, especially in the company of other men. This is what we need to tackle in construction.

How has COVID-19 affected mental health and what impact has this had on your Charity?

The impact has been huge. Over 53% of the working population in construction are self-employed, agency workers or on zero-hour contracts. They are often just one or two pay cheques away from poverty. Over the last couple of months, calls to our helpline have increased by 55%.  Many of the problems are financial but behind every financial problem there is an underlying mental health issue. As a direct result of the wellbeing issues presented to our 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline, we have just announced that we are delivering £20,000 of free mental health and wellbeing training to the industry for the remainder of 2020.

Tell us more about your free Wellbeing Training Sessions

A crucial element of our strategy is to pro-actively support the industry’s mental wellbeing and ensure the widespread availability of construction focussed training programmes. These range from hour long interactive wellbeing sessions through to the full two day MHFA England approved Mental Health First Aider course. This will ensure that companies have easy access to a robust wellbeing strategy to support every level of their organisation from the boots on the ground workforce through to senior management. We introduced the free courses in May 2020 and they were so popular that we are now offering them free for the rest of the year.

The sessions are based primarily around workplace wellbeing issues and include: stress management, building resilience, work life balance, mindfulness and an introduction to meditation.

One of the key findings of our recently published 2019 Impact Report was that 62% of emergency financial grants were to pay for daily living costs, paying bills and clearing rent arrears. Financial wellbeing is one of the key factors affecting mental health and the introduction of ‘bang on budget’ financial management sessions, aim to directly address these issues.

The fallout of Covid-19 has also seen an increasing number of redundancies across the industry so we have now also added two sessions aimed at improving employability with ‘At the Interview’ and a ‘CV Workshop’.

What are some of the tell-tale signs for someone struggling with their mental health?

Sometimes it’s not always obvious to see that someone is struggling but the key one is to look out for change. If a person is normally quite cheery and then over a period of time they seem quiet and withdrawn, you need to ask if they are okay. Not once but twice and make time for the answer.

I have three ‘life principles’  that I always use:

  • The first is from the Samaritans: Always ask twice. It’s so easy to say you are okay to someone. If you see somebody that appears to be struggling, ask again, make eye contact and wait for the answer.
  • The second is from a motivational speaker called Dr. Steven Covey from his book ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’. Always seek to understand before you seek to be understood. This means when somebody does start telling you what is wrong, don’t jump to an immediate solution or trump them with your own story. They see life through their lens not yours so really listen intently before making any response. Sometimes the fact that you just listened is all they need
  • The last is from the Dali Lama – always be kind! There is no reason to be unkind to another human being. This does not mean that you cannot make tough decisions but if you have to take somebody off a project don’t make them feel bad for it.

You can visit any of our websites to find more information:

www.lighthouseclub.org

www.constructionindustryhelpline.com

www.buildingmentalhealth.net

Watch our latest case study video

Or read more about who we’ve helped.

 

 

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