There are things we can do to make workplaces better.
In recognition of the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day on October 20, Canada’s National Director of Health and Safety Services Jason McInnis appeared on a TSSA webinar to discuss strategies for supporting mental wellness for workers in the construction trades. TSSA, an independent trade union in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the transport and travel trade industries, is a partner of the Boilermakers union.
Nadine Rae, organizing director for TSSA, said that in the time of a global pandemic when people are isolated and not certain what’s going to happen in the near future, increased anxiety makes existing mental health issues even harder to manage.
“We need to be talking with one another and looking at global solidarity,” she said. “There are things we can do to make workplaces better.”
The webinar featured panelists, who shared their personal struggles with mental health challenges in the workplace, as well as shared solutions and ways to raise awareness at work.
McInnis, invited to talk about a program he spearheaded for Canadian Boilermakers, said there’s a challenge in addressing mental wellness among construction sector Boilermakers because of their heavy travel schedule and multiple employers.
“We do safety quite well, but we weren’t doing mental health very well,” he said. “So that led us to ask: ‘What do we do to help our members?’ Especially in an industry where our members work for many different employers.”
McInnis first looked for partners, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, and asked members what they wanted in long-term mental health initiatives. Canadian Health and Safety Services put together mental health program, which McInnis launched as a one-day optional workshop ahead of the 2019 Canada Tripartite Conference. He said he hoped 20 people would show up to that first meeting. Instead there were 80.
“The first 20 minutes, people stared at the floor,” he said. “And then after that, the floodgates opened, and we realized how pervasive mental health challenges are for [members] or people close to them.”
Now, they’re forming peer support groups. The first launched in November. “I’m not sure we would have been successful 10 years ago, but maybe we would have,” McInnis said. “To our surprise, the reception has been phenomenal.”
The cornerstone of the Canadians' mental wellness plan comes from the Working Mind Program from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which Boilermakers adapted to work for the unique challenges of construction workers. The program outlines how to knock down stigma and address mental wellness.
“The way it’s built, you’re not just talking at members. It quickly becomes an interactive experience,” McInnis said.
He said it’s common in the construction trades to have the attitude of “suck it up buttercup,” but that’s “a legacy of a bygone era. As soon as you chip away at that, the floodgates open.”
The program is now mandatory for apprentices and stewards across Canada. Topics include how to identify when someone is struggling with mental health, how to tackle it and how deal with the employer.
“We’re quite excited for this,” McInnis said. “We think it will be a culture shift.”
The TSSA webinar on mental wellness was part of an ongoing Going Beyond series that addresses a variety of trade union topics. To learn more or join upcoming discussions, visit www.tssa.org.uk/goingbeyond
Mental Health Resources
The National Institute of Mental Health is a U.S. government agency with a wide variety of information mental wellness and mental health resources.
The Canadian Mental Health Association offers information and help on mental health as well as a blog and news updates.