The construction industry is known for its rugged environment, and those working in it have the reputation of being “macho.” A big part of this stereotype is not complaining when things get tough and keeping mum when it comes to mental or emotional problems.
Consequently, anxiety and depression have become a bigger problem than musculoskeletal disorders for construction workers, and they are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male.
Considering that suicide is already the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45, this is something that people must pay more attention to. However, how do you get the conversation started when the workers themselves won’t open up?
Here are some tried and tested techniques that can help you break through their emotional barriers.
If counselees are unwilling to share, it might help if you remain silent at the initial stage of the meeting. It will give them the chance to think or process how they feel and figure out what direction they want the conversation to go.
If possible, wait for them to break the silence and broach the topic that they want to talk about.
Once your clients start talking, get the conversation going by listening actively. Pay close attention not only to what they are saying but also to what they are not saying. Look for non-verbal cues that sometimes communicate what words can’t.
Face the client, keep eye contact, and maintain a relaxed position.
Do not underestimate the power of physical contact. A simple touch on the shoulder or holding a hand at a vulnerable moment can go a long way in offering comfort to the client.
When trying to get someone to open up, you need to show that that person has your full attention. One way to do this is by sharing some simple observations. For instance, you can say, “You look more rested today than the last time we talked.” It demonstrates your interest in the wellness of your patient in a small but profound way.
Building on the previous technique, it is important for you to show empathy to gain someone’s trust. Having the ability to identify a person’s feelings or perception of reality and being able to demonstrate this understanding is a good way to build a deeper connection.
Counselling is a stressful situation for people, especially construction workers who are not used to discussing their feelings. However, the fact that they showed up for the meeting says that they are willing to give it a shot.
Make them understand that their efforts would not go to waste by offering them hope. Provide encouragement and positive feedback where appropriate.
Injecting Some Humour
While mental health is a very important topic, sessions don’t have to be serious all the time. Try to keep things positive by sprinkling some humour in your conversations. It will help your client relax and feel more comfortable about sharing intimate thoughts. It also helps promote camaraderie and a sense of togetherness which will make things easier as you go.
One thing that makes some people hesitant about sharing is the fear of not being heard. Remove this barrier by acknowledging what your patients are sharing. Let them know by saying things like “I understand” and “I agree with what you said.” People who feel accepted are more likely to be receptive to your efforts to help them.
Going the Extra Mile
Most construction workers who are suffering from mental health issues feel that their employers do not understand their situation or care about them. If you hope to gain their trust, show them that you are different.
You can do this in any of a number of ways, like answering calls even on Sundays or setting emergency appointments when necessary.
Another way to show your clients that you are listening is by summarising what they say from time to time. For instance, you can tell your client what you understood from what he said, then end it with “Did I understand it correctly?” It shows that you are paying attention and gives your client the opportunity to expound if needed.
It is important to advise your clients on what they should do, but there are times when you need to step back and ask them what they think they should do. This will make them more involved with the process and accountable for their actions, allowing them to be more self-sufficient in the future when it comes to maintaining their mental health.
The first step towards solving the mental health problem afflicting the construction industry is shining a light on the matter and recognising that it is there in the first place.
Once the workers understand that admitting to mental health struggles is a sign of strength and not weakness, it will be easier for them to access the help that they need.