Top tips for tackling mental health problems in construction

10 October 2016

With today being World Mental Health Day, Clive Johnson, group head of health, safety and security at Land Securities and chair of the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG), shares his advice for how to start a conversation about mental health in the workplace.

Clive Johnson

Mental ill health in the workplace is a growing issue with one in six working age adults experiencing depression, anxiety or stress-related issues at any one time. In the lead up to World Mental Health Day today (10 October), Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England asked employers how they could support the mental wellbeing of their staff.

10 million people experience a mental health issue each year in the UK and work-related mental ill health costs UK employers £26bn annually through lost working days, staff turnover and lower productivity. Even though we are now talking more about mental health, the stigma still remains, particularly in the workplace.

To help tackle the stigma, MHFA England is calling on everyone to “Take 10 Together” and have a 10-minute conversation with a friend, family member, or colleague to start a conversation about mental health and find out more about Mental Health First Aid.

Mental Health First Aid is the mental health equivalent of a physical first aid course. It teaches people the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support.

It might seem a little daunting to start a conversation about mental health but it’s important to remember you don’t have to be an expert. Here are some practical tips for how you can start the conversation:

Choose a setting

  • Make a cup of tea, coffee or grab a cup of water. Whichever you choose it’s a great way to ask someone a quick “how are you” and ask for a private meeting.
  • Give yourself plenty of time so you don’t appear to be in a hurry. 10 minutes may be enough but if you need longer then go ahead.
  • You don’t want to be disturbed so turn your phone off or onto silent.
  • Meeting outside the workplace in a neutral space such as a café might feel less intimidating.

How to ask the questions

  • Keep the chat positive and supportive, exploring the issues and how you may be able to help.
  • Keep your body language open and non-confrontational. 
  • Be empathetic and take them seriously.
  • Do not offer glib advice such as “pull yourself together” or “cheer up”.
  • Take into account cultural differences in communication styles such as how much eye contact is appropriate.

Useful questions to ask

  • "How are you feeling at the moment?"
  • “How long have you felt like this – is it an ongoing issue?”
  • “Who do you feel you can go to for support?"
  • “Are there any work related factors which are contributing to how you are feeling?”
  • "Is there anything we can do to help?"

How to listen

  • Give the person your full focus and listen without interrupting.
  • Listen to their words, tone of voice and body language - all will give clues to how they are feeling.

Once you’ve started the conversation, make sure you keep it going. Follow up with the person and ask them how they are doing. Reassure them that your door is always open, and really mean it. It’s particularly essential to keep in touch with an employee who is off sick.

Give reassurance that there are lots of sources of support and some of these might be available via the HR or occupational health department, employee assisted programmes or onsite counselling. If you work in a company with limited support services it’s also appropriate to encourage the person to visit their GP for guidance around accessing the NHS funded programme “Improving Access to Psychological Therapies”.   

For more guidance around how to approach and respond to a colleague who is experiencing a mental health issue download the free Line Managers Resource at

To find out how employers can support the wellbeing of their staff and demonstrate their commitment to World Mental Health Day, visit and download the free MHFA England Take 10 Together toolkit.   

Health in Construction Leadership Group was set up in 2015 as a direct response to research presented at the 2015 Construction Industry Advisory Committee (ConIAC), which exposed the high number of occupational health deaths in the sector, with construction workers in the UK 100 times more likely to die from an occupational illness than a workplace accident.


The project I am on has a level of design that is completely inadequate, a terrible contractor who is focussed only it seems on making claims, and a inexperienced client who thinks a quick chat every now and then will sort it out.

Caught in the middle with inadequate resources, we are asked by the head of the design organisation to somehow compensate for his mismanagement and incompetence, while being expected by the client to somehow do our work to a level that could be described as "fast, cheap and right" in order to avoid claims from the contractor, who is actively taking a confrontational approach to every issue, generating problems at times for the sake of it.

We are completely under-resourced to do what we have to, and the early warnings that we have given to the problem have been ignored.

The end result is going to be a serious mess that I can see no one taking responsibility for, and only those who have tried to deal with the mess being blamed for.

I personally would take the easy way out and quit, but it's a long way to the next job, and I'd be doing so with family in tow.

Stressful, much?

C., 20 November 2016

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