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“We’d rather talk about football” – Men and mental health

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Working trackside can be a challenging existence. Long night shifts in miserable weather are written into the job description.

Dave Lee has spent most of his career on construction sites. For five years, he worked on the railway doing everything from extending platforms to installing signal bases.

“On the railway you’re going from one job to the next,” said Dave, who in 2008 considered taking his own life.

“I was driving round a roundabout on the way to work and I knew I couldn’t continue anymore,” said Dave.

It was the thought of his family at home that ultimately prevented Dave from driving his van into one of the roadside barriers and helped him onto the road to recovery.

Statistics show that men are more likely to take their own lives than women. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more than three quarters of suicides are by men and suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), mental health issues and suicide are a particular challenge within the construction industry, with deaths from suicide believed to be 10 times higher than from workplace accidents.

Dave used drink and drugs to treat his own depression. His recovery only began when he attended Alcoholics Anonymous. “It was a journey,” said Dave, who went on to write a book about his experiences: ‘The Hairy Arsed Builder’s Guide To Stress Management’.

In 2017, Dave set up his own mental health consultancy, A Deeper Understanding, to help move the conversation around mental health on.

Dave said: “We’d rather talk about football and what happened at the weekend than having an open and frank conversation about what we’re feeling.”

The Mates in Mind charity was established in 2017. The organisation aims to raise awareness of mental health within the construction industry and promote a positive wellbeing culture within the industry.

Balfour Beatty was one of six construction companies to take part in a pilot programme led by the charity between February and June last year. Balfour Beatty aims to roll the programme out across its entire business by 2020.

Mark Bullock, managing director for Balfour Beatty’s rail business,  wants to see mental health training implemented across the rail division by the end of this year. Targets include having one mental health first aider for every 40 employees,  one person with MIND training per 10 employees and for every employee to have undertaken Start the Conversation training.

Talking about Balfour Beatty’s work with Mates in Mind, Heather Bryant, health, safety, environment and sustainability director, said: “This integral programme will ensure a consistent industry-wide approach to tackling the stigma around mental health within our industry.

“The tools and techniques supplied by Mates in Mind is key to dealing with the startling statistics that highlight the evident problem within construction, but also in providing the education to business that is required to provide a supportive and inclusive working environment.”

Dave said he is now able to see that having one difficult day doesn’t mean that every day will be difficult. He hopes that telling his story will stop other men from struggling in silence.

Visit the Mates in Mind website for information about the initiative

Read more: Q&A: How TfL is tackling mental health