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Building the foundation for healthy minds

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When Dan Labbad, Lend Lease’s Chief Executive Officer, International Operations, spoke at a recent leadership conference he put the issue of mental health firmly on the agenda, stating:
“Those working in the construction business are six times more likely to die from suicide as a result of depression than falling from a height.”
Labbad is certainly not alone in his view that construction companies should be investing far more in protecting and supporting the mental health of their employees. The Trade Union Congress TUC states in its Time to Change manifesto that: “Occupational stress should be given the same priority as injury prevention by employers.”
But what should the construction sector be doing to promote good mental health and how can it support employees when a mental health issue arises? Lend Lease has invested a significant amount of time and energy into working out how, as a leading international property and infrastructure group, it can provide meaningful mental health support to its workforce. Leading the way in the organisation is the newly created Mental Health Working Group. This purpose-led group has recently started to roll out an internationally recognised mental health awareness training programme called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). This training has been funded by the Lend Lease Foundation programme, which invests in its employees’ health and wellbeing.
Martin Coyd, Lend Lease’s Regional Head of Environment, Health & Safety in Europe and Head of the Mental Health Working Group, said:
“The construction industry has a stereotypically macho reputation and, perhaps as a result, mental health has not been something that people have been prepared to discuss openly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. Working away from home, long hours, pressing deadlines, environmental conditions and high levels of physical exertion are all factors that we have recognised could contribute to a person’s stress level and mental health. That’s why we decided to invite employees to join the Mental Health Working Group.
“The reaction amongst staff to the launch of this initiative was tremendous.”
A fully qualified MHFA instructor himself, Coyd continues: “The introduction of Mental Health First Aid into our business is an important step in the right direction, because we are not only breaking down the stigma that is so often associated with talking about mental health, but we are providing a first point of call for someone who might be experiencing a mental health issue. So far, out of our 2,500 employees in the UK, we have 83 trained Mental Health First Aiders, with further training courses already being arranged in the autumn of 2014. We have posters up on every floor in every Lend Lease office in the UK identifying who our qualified MHFAiders are and how to contact them.”
So what is MHFA and how is it being used within Lend Lease to good effect?   The CEO of MHFA England, Poppy Jaman explains:
“Mental Health First Aid is an educational course that teaches people how to identify, understand and help a person who may be developing a mental health problem. In the same way that we learn physical First Aid, MHFA teaches people how to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental ill health, provide help on a first aid basis and effectively guide others in the right direction towards support. By offering MHFA training, Lend Lease is sending out a message to its employees that mental health is not something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and that the earlier someone is supported, the more positive their recovery will be.
“With over 80 MHFAiders throughout the organisation, Lend Lease is encouraging its employees to look out for one another and offer support when it is needed. The model adopted by Lend Lease is one of cultural change and is a hearts and minds exercise. It is not about allocating a person to become responsible for all matters relating to mental health but about educating and increasing mental health literacy throughout the organisation so that the emotive subject is no longer taboo..”
Along with the continued rollout of MHFA in the UK, Lend Lease has also introduced a mandatory stress awareness course for every employee. First Assist, the company’s Employee Assistance Programme is also promoted widely as a fully funded support service for those who may wish to speak to someone in a more anonymous setting.
Lend Lease is recognised externally for best practice in this area and was the only company in its sector to be included within the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) report ‘Getting Better: Workplace Health as a Business Issue’. This report was highlighted for its approach to health and wellbeing, including mental health as one of its six focus areas.  Further to this, Lend Lease is one of the founding members of the City Mental Health Alliance – a coalition of organisations that have come together to improve mental health in the City of London. The CBI report stated that “Sound physical and mental health are essential both to Lend Lease’s employees and the communities in which they operate. The firm is developing a mental health management strategy which includes detailed impact measurement.”
To mark a monumental year in tackling the issue of mental health, Lend Lease will soon be hosting its first ever MHFAiders conference. Here the European Health Leadership Team and individual workgroup leaders will provide updates on the range of health and wellbeing initiatives being implemented within Lend Lease, with a strong mental health focus throughout the day.
To find out more about MHFA and its workplace training visit www.mhfaengland.org or email info@mhfaengland.org

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