The last few months have taken a toll on most people’s mental health, whether from losing work and experiencing the negative impacts from the pandemic or from positive things like having a baby, buying a house or maybe your work is booming, we’re all prone to feeling a little off sometimes and that’s OK. With Coronavirus pandemic being an unfortunate catalyst for this awareness and May being recognized as Mental Health Month, it presents a unique opportunity to talk about a subject that can be painful, frightening and feel like a very solitary experience. It’s important to keep in mind that mental health is just one facet of something much bigger - behavioral health.
While often used interchangeably, behavioral health is actually a broader category that includes mental health. According to Insight, behavioral health is the scientific study of the emotions, behaviors and biology relating to a person’s mental well-being, their ability to function in everyday life and their concept of self. A person struggling with his or her behavioral health may face stress, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, addiction, ADHD or learning disabilities, mood disorders and other psychological concerns.
Behavioral health is a very personal area that can often be tricky to recognize, discuss and address. While we’re not experts, we do want to do what we can to provide resources, information and tips to create your very own metaphorical “behavioral health toolbox” that can be helpful personally and in your community.
Ditch the Taboo
We want to be perfectly clear: there is no shame in seeking help if you need it. Despite over 70 years of celebrating Mental Health Month in the United States and many other behavioral health categories being given a national spotlight, it’s proven difficult to overcome a long history of mental health being taboo in many communities. Whether due to pressures and societal expectations to be - or act - a certain way or from high-stress environments with exposure to both physical and emotional hazards, job sites are often susceptible to both.
Studies indicate that mental distress is strongly associated with chronic pain from work-related injuries. Holly Welles from Construct Connect writes, “Physical injuries don't only hurt the flesh—they can damage the psyche as well. Chronic pain and depression have high comorbidity rates, with 85% of chronic pain sufferers also experiencing severe depression.” Injuries can become just the initial link in a destructive chain. According to American Addiction Center, depression may lead to dangerous behaviors like alcoholism, drug use and generally neglecting your body’s need to function. The more literal pain someone is in, the more likely they are to substance abuse.
Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 11.2 million people work in the construction trades - this includes residential and nonresidential builders; contractors that install or service mechanical systems like electricity, water, elevators, and heating and cooling; and civil engineering construction. It represents not only one of the largest professional communities in the U.S., but also one of the most at-risk industries for troubles related to behavioral health. The CDC also reports that the industry has one of the highest suicide rates amongst workers alluding to the fact that these behavioral health difficulties often go unaddressed.
In fact, a survey conducted by Randstad revealed a shocking 23% of construction workers said they were thinking of exiting the industry, the main reason being high levels of stress and difficulty striking a work/life balance. The study found that 73% of workers felt their employers did not recognize the early signs of mental health problems with around two-thirds claiming there are not enough outlets to discuss their mental health. Echoing that sentiment, Action Alliance cites several quotes from field managers and supervisors on their colleagues that “needed someone to talk to,” but instead let their mental health problems manifest into dangerous behaviors.
Those are powerful statistics and aren’t meant to scare you, but to reinforce that it's time to change the numbers for the better by taking steps individually, among your colleagues and as employers to remove the taboo around behavioral health, creating safer job sites and communities for support.
Mitigate Behavioral Health Stressors with Self-Check Toolbox
Keith Stoner (@rebeltreefrog), Industrial Athlete and Truewerk crew member, outlines four main types of jobsite stressors based on his experience:
- Physical: Exactly what it sounds like; pain, injury or trauma. It plays into whether or not you can physically complete a task free of pain.
- Mental: The stress of balancing being a complex human being in a complex world, which include logistical factors like insurance, rent, transportation or your career.
- Emotional: When your capacity to process emotions does not keep up with their intensity or the rate at which they change. The personal factors that may carry into the jobsite.
- Core Belief: When identity is in question - sex, race, political leanings, sexuality, appearance or ideas of self worth come under scrutinty and pressure. These can be subtle and often swept into the subconscious.
These stressors shouldn’t be seen as siloed. For example, mental stress can put pressure on the physical body. Stress on your core beliefs can cause you to be mentally and emotionally out of touch, physical stress can carry over into all facets. Once you can identify the 4 main stress types as hazards, you can start to mitigate them.
Keith recommends creating a new kind of mental health kit or as he calls it a “tool box.” Your tool box begins with the basics that you need to be able to simply show up: oxygen, water, food, sleep. Focusing on the quality of the basics and improving them is a fantastic first step. Once these are accounted for, bring in additional tools and start asking questions to address the 4 main stressors. Here’s what Keith keeps in his metaphorical toolbox:
- Mirror: Self-assess. Ask yourself how you see yourself? How do others? It’s often a therapist’s job to hold the mirror for you. The best thing you can do for yourself is learn to hold your own mirror as often as possible to determine your current capabilities and capacities.
- Timepiece: Are you present in the moment? Are you focused on the task? To alleviate baseline levels of stress and avoid hazards, it’s important to stop multitasking between lives, work, home, play and education. Segment the tasks and set time for them when it will receive your fullest attention.
- Radar: How are others around you feeling? Can you create a space to bring up how they’re feeling to clear the air?
- Radio: How effective and open minded are your verbal and nonverbal communications?
- Map and Compass: What’s the goal and what role do you play? How am I planning? What steps do I need to take and in what direction?
- Stress ball: How do you deal with stress or pressure in the moment? How can you work those things out? What triggers the stress? Once you can recognize these things, you can begin finding ways to control the stress, instead of letting it control you.
- Weather Gear: Are you complaining? Is there anything you can do to minimize the urge to do so? Can you say your complaint in a different way? For example, instead of “I’m so cold, I can’t stand it,” try “Are you as cold as I am? What can we do to stay warm?” The longer the exposure to a non productive mindset the greater the overall negative effect on the group.
Your behavioral health toolbox can have anything you want in it, but it should help you on the climb to your physical and emotional safety. Maybe add some kind of element of self-care into your own toolbox. Setting your intentions, checking in with yourself, ridding yourself of hazardous mindsets and treating yourself will establish a sturdy foundation to support you during times when your behavioral health might feel like it’s wavering. Empower and believe in yourself. Self empowerment starts with: “I must and I will grow in my capacity to face these stresses and this adversity in a greater capacity slowly every day.”
It’s not easy to assess your own emotions, but taking the time to first let yourself feel and then really identify what exactly you’re feeling or doing can help you better cope with challenging situations. If you are taking steps to be more in touch with your feelings, but are having trouble dealing with them, Mental Health America recommends seeing a trained professional like a therapist. Some free or low cost options are available that we’ll list with the other resources down below. Your employer might have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that offers a limited number of free counseling sessions, and your Human Resources department can help you access this resource. If you don’t have an EAP through work, the leaders of religious organizations like churches, synagogues and mosques often have experience with counseling.
Communicate then Lead
Monitoring behavioral health is not just about communicating with yourself, it’s about being able to communicate with others too, and learning how to create a healthy environment for those around you is one of the kindest things you can do.
Check out these tips:
- Build camaraderie, this makes the bad days a little better.
- Be inspired by others, not jealous. Don’t dwell on why someone else is succeeding, use it to fuel your fire.
- Have conversations. By opening up, you can forge supportive connections.
- Break down barriers by thinking of new ways to debrief as a team or family.
- Give thanks.
- Be curious and ask questions. Ask “Do you want to talk about it?”
- Take it in, don’t take it on. When someone is vulnerable and shares the details of challenges they’re facing, know that they can fill up your pot by listening, but dump it out once the conversation is over. Sometimes you just have to listen.
- Be available and non-judgemental. Say, “I’m here for you.” Knowing that someone is looking out prompts confidence and peace of mind in remembering they can talk about it (whatever it may be) if needed.
- Keep your word. If you have offered your help and told someone you would do something, stick to it. The last thing someone going through turmoil needs is the feeling that they’ve been abandoned.
- Build your emotional vocabulary. At the root of “good, bad, sad, mad or fine” is a vast dictionary that can better describe feelings.
- Cut the comparisons. It’s okay to share similar experiences, but be careful not to compare because it can make someone feel like their pain isn’t valid.
- Offer to join them. When someone is going through a time of sadness, their emotions can take over. Offering to go with someone to an activity they’re not looking forward to can help lift spirits.
- Disconnect from electronics and social media that bring you down and trigger negative emotions.
- Practice self-care and share ideas with others that helped you feel better.
- Pay attention. If you notice a coworker's phone background of their family, ask them about it.
Beyond communication, there are many things leaders can do to prevent a company culture that negatively impacts wellness and lower the risk of suicide, addiction, chronic pain and more. This Construction Industry Blueprint from Action Alliance provides more insight on the issues the industry faces, checklists and how to get prepared for tackling those issues.
Don’t Be Afraid to Listen AND Take Action
Behavioral health encompasses some problems that better communication, self-awareness and support from others simply can’t solve. If you notice that you or someone you know continues to struggle after weeks or months, this might be a sign of a behavioral health condition that needs professional help. Don’t be afraid to recognize this and speak up. Here are some key messages to aid in approaching the subject. You never know what kindness will be the one that helps someone change their perspective and seek help.
However, if you or someone you care about is in immediate danger of taking suicidal action or overdosing because of addiction, seek help by calling 911 or going to the closest emergency room. Trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 by texting "MHA" to 741-741 or calling 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
Helpful Resources for Maintaining Your Health
There are a growing number of organizations that are dedicated to behavioral health within the trades, several hotlines and ways to get help that doesn’t require sitting in a therapist's office. Additionally, in honor of Mental Health Month, Mental Health America has put together a free toolkit you can download with tons of helpful information.
- Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention
- Allied Trades Assistant Program
- National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
- Working Minds: Sucide Prevention in the Construction WorkPlace
- Drug Free Construction
Hotlines and Centers
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255
- SAMSA 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- Mental Health America, text "MHA" to 741-741 or calling 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
- National Domestic Violence Hotline, Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “LOVEIS” to 22522
- Find your Crisis Center
- Clubhouse International
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Find Addiction Rehab Centers
Online Therapy & Support Resources
- Headspace - Meditation, sleep and movement exercises to help. Plus, blog to guide you in navigating life’s stressors. They’re offering free advice right now due to COVID-19.
- BetterHelp - Affordable, private online counseling
- TalkSpace - Online therapy
- SonderMind - Helps find licensed therapists who accept your insurance and are available to see you either in-person or online.
- MindWise Innovations - Behavioral Health screening
- Mantherapy - “A resource to help men with any problem that life sends their way, something to set them straight on the realities of suicide and mental health, and in the end, a tool to help put a stop to the suicide deaths of so many of our men.”
- HappyTheMovement - Receive support and encouragement from compassionate people.
- ThisIsMyBrave - Brings stories of mental illness and addiction out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
Truewerk aims to empower you to be the best you can be. That’s why we put so much thought into everything we make and why we want you to put thought into how you take care of yourself - mentally and physically.Comment below or tag us on Instagram @Truewerk if you found this helpful or have additional ideas!