Pull yourself together: Mental Health & Attitudes at Work


First and foremost.

I’m not a qualified medical professional. 
I am someone thats suffered with a mental health condition, sought professional help and can now make better sense of my world and those who share it with me.

This article briefly outlines my challenge with attitudes within a professional environment, notably in the construction industry, as well as my own challenges with mental health.

Generational barriers and taboo’s

Let’s make no bones about this.

The subject of mental health will forever remain a taboo in cultures and societies until colossal steps are taken to educate populations globally.
It is my sincere hope that reliable, evidence-based information from a multitude of sources will spread into these societies and debase this dogmatic anathema.
Edifying the close-minded, ill-educated, self-righteous masses, usually fraught with misguided moral perceptions & ‘principles’, and often fuelled by indoctrinated, dogmatic belief systems that should have remained in the dark ages, cannot be be overstated enough.

This of course is far easier said than done, and despite the monumental work of charities & government organizations, social media, websites, bloggers, et al, this behemoth of a problem must become top priority in educating mental health, mental illness and provide a general understanding necessary to building the public conscience.
So much work needs to be done.

Common misconceptions still prevent those affected from confronting their fears and feeling the confidence to trust, without judgement, in people near & dear.

Pride, self-image, ego, ‘family values – whatever they are’, out-dated traditions, or more often than not, the fear of being ostracized from social circles will paralyze anyone from stepping forward to seek help. Gaining the courage to speak amongst those closest to them is, without doubt extremely difficult if your ‘support’ network are allied to any of the examples as stated above.

I’ll say straight up. I believe my parents to be loving, caring and supportive of anything I’d be battling with. And they have been.
Though for them to actually come to terms with, and then process any form of ‘mental health’ label placed on their sons head, or any member of the family for that matter, would I imagine, be a struggle to accept. And I don’t blame them for this attitude. Not one bit. They are the product of a working-class generation. Families who did have a someone with a mental health condition was usually labelled as a ‘private matter’ and likely subject to gossip, ill-information and slandered in some derogatory way.
The painted ‘X’ above the front door cast, what those suffering believed to be a shameful shadow but the real shame was on the other side of the door, the outside and not those suffering behind it.

My folks came from a generation where a multitude of irrational stigmas were (and still are) rife in family circles and society in general.
Heaven forbid you mentioned anything that remotely suggested that not all was well upstairs. You’d be declared a nutcase or worse still told to ‘pull yourself together’, ‘sort your life out’ or given some other thoughtless, hollow, crumb-flicking remark of flippant insensitivity.
But again, how can you really blame the assessor of someones own self-assessment when exposure to resources that could educate the masses were virtually devoid.

My decline into the unknown

Attempting to function in relative ‘normality’ whilst trying comprehend everything going on around me was at times extremely difficult.
Maintaining concentration was a hug problem (and occasionally still can) when performing, what many would consider simple, trivial tasks.

When you are unable to fully focus, effectiveness will suffer in all situations. Whether in a team, or working on your own, the inability to produce will have detrimental effects everywhere and will be brutally highlighted, especially working in construction.
Trying to ably function in an environment governed by strict health & safety policies means scrutiny to detail in every respect is magnified.
And this was truth was unabashedly emphasized whilst working as a joiner.

Operating powerful, expensive and dangerous tools, receiving instruction from colleagues, supervisors, QS’s, site managers whilst referring to detailed technical drawings surrounded by professional trades who need full cooperation is, for obvious reasons somewhat important.
For anyone wishing to make a success of any task let alone positively deliver throughout the entirety of a project must be fully calibrated to the environment.
The importance of rules, regulations, complete understanding of the project, observation, cooperation and attention to detail cannot be overstated enough.

Using analogous systems to understand symptoms

My halcyon working days of learning my trade as a wet-about-the-ears-20-something, building, breaking and supporting Windows 95 desktops & NT servers back when the internet was in junior high gave an important understand of using analogous systems.
Takes me a few attempts for the penny to drop at times but perhaps you’ve experienced the following yourself.

After working for months on end you discover your trusty computer is gradually becoming paralyzed by an unseen force. Continuing to work, you ignore the symptoms believing this oddness will pass, however slowly but surely internal systems begin grinding to an unceremoniously halt before turning the computer into a static entity. It’s been rendered useless, and you impotent to resolve any of these problems.

Even switching the machine off and on again; succumbing to the classic IT help-desk solution, often mocked but utterly logical fails vainly. Pulling the plug, hard rebooting solves nothing. Nothing but a blank look of defiance.

So here are the questions:

– Are you actually aware of whats happening?
– Are you wondering how this situation may have started?
– And are you equipped to salvage it?
– If not, who can you ask…who can you trust?

In recent years include hacking, malware, spyware, all sorts of viruses, hijacking software, SPAM email, Trojan Horses, AdWare, et al.
Most instances of application failure stems from some form of bug, virus or disease entering the system, either forcefully or by stealth. Eventually some form of corruption will occur.
Getting to the cause quickly may save the system from being completely rebuilt.

But it seemed ok yesterday! It was behaving normally!?

What seemed (I have problems with the looseness of this word) ok or what is deemed normal (this word too) on the surface usually hides, courtesy of the ego-system, a menace, lurking in the shadows, waiting for that chance to surface. Triggers can be external (a virus perhaps) or internal (a bug in the software) that could prevent optimum functionality. Left to linger, corruption of a system is expedited, an eviscerating fault that’s potentially irreversible.

The parallel I loosely identify cites conscientious and unconscientious competencies honed from many years working.  Often we take for granted a system that, unmonitored, may be vulnerable or unprepared for dynamic environmental conditions.

When it came to working as a joiner, my output was consistently good.
I was able to complete a fair amount of good-quality work on several high-value projects yet not feel consciously anxious by non-work related factors. Nor did I perceive the detrimental downturn.

So what was my trigger?

Life is dynamic, and changes tend to be progressive.
Even if change is regressive the spin manufactured by the ego can portray manifestations of denial that can lead to deteriorating mental health and even depression. Unless acknowledged, this can last a life time.

Changed circumstances in my life, ones I believed could be kept exclusive from work slowly bled into my professional life. I continued, aware of my feelings but consciously unaware of its effects on my concentration.
It became apparent I was losing the ability to dedicate myself exclusively to an exercise without thoughts being redirected to other events in my life. This is not uncommon, however effectiveness in the job was clearly waning with increased frequency.
I was struggling to fully manage my workload without feeling the need for constant reassurance or clarification, which rapidly became a dependency for nearly everything I was working on.
At first it was a case of asking colleagues or a site manager to inspect or double-check my work. This then spiraled into checking trivial items I’d done in my sleep for years. Was I using the right screws, were the measurements right; I was checking measurements over and over and over again. Yes, I’m all for measure twice, cut once but I was measuring about 10 times then too worried to cut at all. I was wasting precious time.

This was likely amusing at first. Before long it become a concern, not just for myself but for those on the project and in my team. I changed from joker in the pack to that of self-scrutiny and extreme insularity against everyone around me, and illogically towards my own perceived short-comings.

Then it changed…for the better.

One of my more astute and empathetic colleagues took me aside and spoke with me at length about what was going on and how I was feeling.
I opened up unconditionally.
He listened. Then proceeded to give me the details of a cognitive behavioral therapist he’d used. He wasn’t sure if this was the answer but based on what I’d volunteered it was a punt in the right direction.
Eventually plucking up the courage and being determined to confront my fears I made the call and sought professional help.

After several sessions I gained the courage to reintroduce myself back into workshop but remained off-site for a few good months. My confidence needed to start locally and wanted to be around familiar people first and foremost.
Don’t get me wrong. going into the shop was very difficult to imagine let alone do.
People I usually laughed and joked with, all of whom were versed in my affairs and condition would be encountered. What would be my reception?

To my relief there was a swathe of genuine support. I acclimatized after a  few days, getting to grips with some small tasks. I found the atmosphere was less eggshell than I’d anticipated and things quickly loosened up around me being there. In fact, there seemed to be a certain curiosity about what I went/was going through, and even attempts at empathy, which I found quite sweet if somewhat misplaced. Still, the effort to understand and make me reconnect was very important. It made my reintegration less singular. There were still a few speed bumps ahead but I’d turned a corner.

Construction industry attitudes – my honest observations

The bulk of my vocational experience involved working in technical environments, mostly IT related – supporting people in corporate offices, configuring equipment in server & comms rooms and testing software in a variety of labs.
Transitioning into the realm of construction, immersing myself in the world of design and manufacturing through array of carpentry and joinery projects, working in a noisy, dusty and gritty workshop, then visiting various sites was surprisingly not something I found arduous, alien or initially intimidating.
Having worked with mechanics, sound engineers, builders, fitters, all types of technicians, theatre designers, you name it, I gained valuable insights over the years. Understanding operations, cultures, processed and most importantly, relationships was part of my education in early employment. Sometimes it feels like my career chart has been the 6 degrees of separation.

I wrote this article in an attempting to understand common attitudes amongst workers I’ve encountered within construction, both in the workshop and across site.
Overall, my initial observations on general personality types was not surprising. The common character traits I expected, compared to those worked along side in all offices were staggeringly obvious.

However, this was based on initial observation.
Or prejudging based on stereotype.

Tradespeople on site are generally less interactive with those outside of their tribe. Inside, the atmosphere is far different. Opinion, mainly binary using direct, short and regularly expletive-ridden language is common-place, and often expressed at unnecessarily high volume. The need to adopt an ultra-machismo/alpha male attitude with colleagues or subordinates in the group appears to standard practice.
This almost sounds like a documentary about a rare group of animals yet for anyone entering this environment at fitter/laborer or as an another operative, unfamiliar with this bravado, cocksure, sexist, chauvinistic and base attitude on show, will either feel intimidated…or worse stimulated.

My presupposition of encountering less than 5% of women on site was pretty accurate (again, the subject of another article) with the laborer stereotype we’ve become familiar with through the various media channels, not far off the mark.
Having to engage solely with a workforce comprised of males from various backgrounds and cultures was something I found oddly fascinating if somewhat overwhelming. As briefly described, the stereotypical gruff, misogynistic, white-van-man workforce was sadly rife but adding this attitude to the inter-site rivalry between cultures and ethnic minority worker groups made the atmosphere particularly toxic.
Insular dispositions, furtive AND blatant looks of disdain, coupled with often cursing made the experience of being on site one of apprehension and to be truthful, a place I preferred not to be. Ever.
Those who didn’t find this amusing, either couldn’t understand a ‘joke’ or were equally as non-plussed and appalled as myself.

This observation is not an exaggeration nor am I overstating my point.

I encountered untold examples of crude and unashamed outbursts that reiterated my environment, and more importantly highlights the essential work needed to educate people on so many levels.
This type of behavior must be highlighted.
Powerful employers who pump millions into projects without actually policing the day-today tasks must do more to understand the realities of site. Relying on supervisors and their subordinates, in reality, doesn’t work. The pressures are enormous. I’d suggest that supervisory staff are not generally qualified to assess potential mental signals of distress or discomfort.
I wholeheartedly acknowledge the stresses surrounding any project – time really is money. I’ve first-hand exposure to layers of management consciously being emotionally affected in their ability to maintain schedules, order, relationships and general control within a dynamic site. Moreover, these factors need to be understood at the top level of the food chain, those raking in 6 & 7-figure salaries and bonuses whist rarely visiting the front line.
Equally, there is absolutely no excuse for condoning the atrocious behavior regularly on display however, we also cannot ignore the stresses humans succumb to when pressured to deliver. Coupled with environmental factors, comprehension, well-being and ultimately, ones livelihood are all affected.

So, if this is the modus operandi, commonplace on site amongst various trades and everyday workforce how is it possible to 1) encourage minority groups to be passionate about making construction a career choice, and 2) promote positive attitudes that will empower anyone feeling vulnerable  to gain confidence in approaching colleagues or management in times of distress?

These are tough questions, no doubt but with determination can be addressed, providing a platform for change.

Exploring Mental Health – A Journey of Discovery

My interest in mental health grew many-fold following my series of unfortunate events, spurring me to pursue a better understanding my what went wrong.
I’m determined to educate myself, not just in the field I was treated but glean as much as possible across the board. It’s a gargantuan undertaking. So many fields. So many opinions. So many studies.
Much of it goes way over my head but want to learn.
I believe I’m discovering the most fascinating area of science, one which truly connects us to ourselves.

To this end, Im currently studying ‘Mental Health in the Workplace’ and hope to gain a diploma in this field.
And I still see a therapist once a week.

I’m deeply passionate about health & well-being and strive to share my experiences with anyone who wants to listen, and more importantly reinforce that they should never suffer alone.

If conversations can inspire anyone to address similar symptoms it can only lead to a first, important step into discussing symptoms of may be worrying them, or someone they may be concerned about.
To achieve a better understanding of what causes a particular behavior or understand someones reasoning processes could bring about necessary change and improve well-being.

Workplace Indifference

I started my corporate journey around 2 months after graduating from university. It was hugely exciting to be begin ‘real’ work, and getting my feet under the table so to speak. My plan was to absorb myself in a role, get a general understanding of the business then progress and make decent money. Usual stuff, right?

The university environment was worlds apart from what I experienced in corporate life.
For starters my colleagues were people my parents age. 20-60 somethings were my peers and direct reports.
Secondly, my responsibilities were entirely my own and was very aware how my output affected other roles in the company. There were different rules, codes and policies that needed to be adhered to or quite simply I’d be fired.
It was different but not incomprehensible.

I wasn’t exactly fazed by this new arena, and certainly had a great level of respect toward everyone I worked with; they (or were supposed to) know more about the business than I did. Naturally I expected guidance – I was
wet behind the ears coupled, raw but had a genuine desire to achieve (impress). despite desiring to make a mark, you can leave yourself vulnerable.

My dedication, eagerness and competency kept me employed at the same company for over 10 years – 9.5 years beyond my initial 6-month probation.
In that time I evolved a person, accustomed to their environment yet felt somewhat distanced from colleagues with similar tenures within the office.

The IT department had 8 staff when I joined. We grew to 14 by the time I left the company. The oldest serving employee lasted 26 years in the dept. The newest, 7. regardless of company structuring and regime changes, it says a lot about how affective teamwork and people management is.
Other departments had high rates of churn but we remained tight, consistent and effective. I learned a great deal of humanity from my manager. Professionalism, compassion and honesty toward everyone. We built our team on these values and certainly shaped me as a young professional.

Fitting in 

The sense of feeling alone, disorientated and pressured when starting anything new, none more so than starting a new job is totally and completely natural and understandable.
Having people around you that genuinely want you to feel welcome is paramount to well-being and confidence. Becoming part of the collective a quickly as possible will boost positivity.
Yet from Generation X’s to millennial’s it astonishes me we still have such a huge proportion of standoffish, detached and indifferent attitudes towards integrating new people into an organization.
Regardless of the internal teams designated to on-board new recruits, the basic principle of simply helping your fellow human appears to have all but banished. No need to be nudge into performing a basic human duty.
Is it fear of being yourself or just plain indifference?
What causes this demeanor?
Is this some kind of new, low standard thats normalized in society?

Surely you once knew exactly the feeling of being the newbie.
Are the lack of societal interactions, driven by modern technological distractions reducing the capacity for empathy?
Is this digitizing of certain demographics actually moulding a self-conscious generation of semi-aware beings? Binary thoughts. Binary decisions.
Reduced social exposure but, ironically so desperate to fit in yet more comfortable ‘living’ in virtual reality than interacting with bonafide flesh & blood.

What guinea pigs eat

This standard phrase of ‘hey’ my skin. I know its intention pertains some kind of positive . The words themselves are not the issue for me.
Acknowledging someone without having to commit more than a single word is itself being honest. It’s the ‘how you doing’ bit that causes a wretched feeling within.
The words themselves lend to positivity, however trivial they’ve become but it’s the auto-spew, disingenuous, indifferent form they’ve adopted, and personally find the lack of intent totally unacceptable.
Uttering this ‘pleasantry’ in the full knowledge you have absolutely no intention of really engaging, or worse getting a reciprocal response, usually coming in the form of  ‘yeah, fine’, ‘ok’, ‘alright’ or ‘all good’ then each party continuing on your respective journey’s represents a very sad state of social affairs. Yes, its not something new but must change.
YOU have the capability to make someones day by just giving them the time of it.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t everyone. I only refer to people and groups I’ve personally encountered, witnessed or had reliable sources validate these similarities. Having witnessed this faux altruism in many organizations over the last 20 years its become clear to me. Most people don’t actually care. Office conditioning. People are not bad per se but it occurs to me that the ‘less hassle’ approach is preferred.
Upholding a certain demeanor and being committal.

This immunity builds through environment, nurture, association and some aspects of social media. Whats emerged is an auto-response that suppresses ones natural impulse to engage.

There appears to be this cognitive dissonance amongst many companies I’ve encountered, either as an employee or customer.
Company image, growth and sales are paramount despite conflicting mission statements and maxims of positive, pithy slogans promoting togetherness.
Its all well and good completing ‘personal development plans’, yearly-reviews and one2one catchups though the motivation needs to come from a place that endorses genuine support for training, guidance, observation and communication that lead to opportunity for growth, not just within an organization but as a person.
Of course, having these plans and programs is an important means of assessing an employees output and effectiveness within an organization, however to truly grow into a more effective, empathic, conscientious, genuine and honest human being, an education on the values laid out by an organization needs to be implemented and instilled for EVERYONE associated.

It is with genuine gratitude that research, improved medical assessments, developments in treatment & techniques and classifications of varying conditions, from depression to schizophrenia to ADHD are continuously evolving, with new ideas and breakthroughs materializing all the time.

Still, we need to keep talking, be truthful and seek professional help if you feel any signs or symptoms that affect your well-being – anxiety, stress or any feelings of not being in control.
If you see someone struggling or recognize signs that could lead someone to acting irresponsibly, please highlight this to a supervisor or someone who can intervene immediately.

Mental health charities and resources

Mates in Mind – www.matesinmind.org/

Mind – www.mind.org.uk/

Samaritans – www.samaritans.org/

Mental Health First Aid England – https://mhfaengland.org/

Mental Health & Attitudes in the Construction Industry
Article Name
Mental Health & Attitudes in the Construction Industry
This article briefly outlines my experience in a professional environment, notably within the construction industry as well as my own challenges with mental health.