Efforts Underway to Normalize Mental-Wellness Discussions in the Construction Industry

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA) has changed the way it approaches mental wellness with a new program geared specifically toward the construction industry. Chris Gardner, president of the association, says the goal is to normalize the discussion surrounding mental wellness in a field with no shortage of stressors and anxiety triggers.

Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA), discussed mental wellness at the 2022 Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA) Virtual Summer Conference on Wednesday, June 8.

Gardner told participants of the 2022 Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA) Virtual Summer Conference on Wednesday, June 8 that there is a “tsunami” of mental wellness issues facing the industry. He also said they could expect those issues to continue and even increase in the future.

For example, Gardner says 55% of people who are employed and die of an opioid overdose in British Columbia are in some way connected to the construction industry. He says drugs, prescription or otherwise, are sometimes used as outlets to deal with the stresses of a project-driven industry and can lead to significant issues over time. At the same time, only a quarter of Canadians feel comfortable talking about mental wellness.

But in a recent ICBA survey, contractors for the first time in 30 years identified mental wellness as one of the top issues they’re facing.

“When a mental wellness challenge emerges, these challenges run silent and they run deep,” Gardner says. “There’s a stigma where people feel awkward or embarrassed. But when they surface, the consequences are often tragic for the individual, their families, their colleagues and for their community. The worst thing that can happen on any jobsite is a death and it’s particularly tragic when someone takes their own life.”

After consulting with experts, contractors and workers, ICBA concluded there was little to no value in just providing those in the industry with brochures addressing mental wellness. Furthermore, he says construction workers don’t identify with much of the content in such brochures.

“So we said we’d develop a program that’s built for construction,” Gardner says. “The language, the topics, the themes and the graphics are all designed to be material that a construction worker will identify with.”

The goal of the program, which entails a monthly theme, is to normalize the conversation around mental wellness. The idea is for everyone in the company to enroll in the program and not just those at the top.

“The goal is to create an environment where someone feels comfortable saying ‘I’m struggling, I need some help,’ and for the person on the other side of that conversation to say ‘OK, here’s what we can do, here’s how we can help,’” Gardner says.

So far, feedback is positive one year into the program.

“There’s more work to be done,” Gardner says. “It’s a significant challenge. But again, our focus is very clear: we just want to normalize the conversation …”

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