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Mental health first aiders support colleagues working on the super sewer

Mental health first aiders working on London’s super sewer have been talking about the importance of supporting each other during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Tideway has trained 167 mental health first aiders, including Tideway CEO Andy Mitchell and the senior leadership team, on how to recognise if co-workers are struggling and ways to offer them support.

Construction has one of the highest rates of suicide of any industry. Data from the Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, the highest number of suicides were found in skilled construction workers.

A recent study also found that, in England, the risk of suicide among low-skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction roles, was three times higher than the male national average.

Mental health first aiders take part in a two-day course, learning about different types of mental health disorders and ways to support those who are struggling.

Barry Major, Deputy Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing for the central section of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “On the central section of the project, we have 70 mental health first aiders spread across the offices and out on sites. They have been effective in supporting personnel on the project by just simply listening and signposting them to further support where required. Some of the support provided has been ongoing for several months. Providing this support in the workplace gives those people an opportunity to talk and share with someone and potentially improves their mental wellbeing or at least gives them an opportunity to release. They can offer valuable support where it may not be provided elsewhere.”

Mental health first aider and Tideway’s Events Lead, Emily McKenna, said: “The training has given me the confidence to support my colleagues and friends with their mental health, and has also given awareness of the illnesses I wouldn’t necessarily have recognised before.”

Dimitra Koutsi, an engineer at Tideway’s Deptford site who has trained as a mental health first aider, said: “Two years ago my father, who is also an engineer, went through a difficult health issue. He told me that his job and being around people every day makes him happy and being at home would depress him. He carried on working but fewer hours and since then his health is getting better. What I got from this is that happiness plays an important role in our health and we should never give up.”

Jennie Armstrong, Tideway’s Head of Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing, said: “Our mental health first aiders have been instrumental in changing the culture at Tideway. Not only have they been breaking down the stigma associated with mental health but also focusing on the proactive things we can do that promote positive mental wellbeing – such as lunchtime walks and volunteering. Our mental health working group has also been working on some aspirational changes that they hope will go beyond Tideway and influence some of the systemic challenges within the industry.”

Tideway also supports Mates in Mind, a charity that aims to raise awareness, address the stigma of poor mental health and improve positive mental wellbeing in construction and related industries across the UK.