John Thompson, Chief Executive at the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors and Volunteer Listener with the Samaritans, looks at what employers in the plumbing and heating industry can do to help their employees’ mental health.

We all need to take mental health seriously as close to 800,000 people die worldwide due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. 

According to the World Health Organisation, there are indications that for every adult who dies by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. One in six UK workers struggle with mental health problems, which equates to around 350,000 construction workers, and suicide is also the leading cause of death among males aged 15 to 49.

Schools and colleges have a part to play in educating students about mental health in terms of what it is, how poor mental health can manifest itself, and what people can do to support and help friends and colleagues. 

I also believe more needs to be done in schools and colleges to teach and prepare students for real life work situations, so they have the knowledge and tools to work through stressful situations, and are able to cope when things go wrong.

I firmly believe that every employer should go through mental health training and actively work to create a healthy company culture. Employers need to be tough and stamp out behaviour which negatively impacts upon an employee’s mental health. Worksite banter is prevalent in our industry, but banter can quickly turn into bullying. Employers need to recognise the difference between banter and bullying, and work to lead by example and consider what behaviour traits they want from their employees.  

As employers we need to treat mental and physical health as equally important, making sure employees have regular one-to-ones and are encouraged to talk about any problems that they might be having. 

We also need to encourage positive mental health through mental health awareness training, workshops, and by appointing mental health ‘champions’ who employees can talk to – even if that is you as the boss.

In some instances, employees are scared to tell their boss about a mental health problem, so problems can spiral. If you employ staff, I would urge you to send a clear message to them that their mental health matters, and being open about it will lead to support. 

If you can see from an employee’s body language or mood that they’re not happy, take the time to take them aside to ask them how they’re feeling, and let them know you are happy to listen and talk about it.  

Employers should seek to understand from employees whether there are any aspects of their work which are negatively impacting their mental health, as there could be things done or put in place which could help without adversely affecting the business. But be honest and open, as some requests may not be practical.

As employers, we have a legal and moral ‘duty of care’ for the health, safety, and wellbeing of our employees and, when it comes to their mental health, the first step is to be able to recognise when someone might be struggling.

Change doesn’t happen overnight and individual relationships between employees need to be developed over time, but employers can start by taking an active interest in their employees’ mental health by just asking how they are.

In addition to providing support, employers can encourage employees to seek help either from their GP or a mental health professional, or by contacting an organisation such as the Samaritans.

Employers can register for the Samaritans’ Wellbeing in the Workplace toolkit for free, which provides access to a number of learning modules to help create an open culture concerning the wellbeing of employees. 

The toolkit also includes a set of interactive videos and online resources to help employers understand the power of asking someone if they’re OK, guiding them on how to start a conversation, helping them recognise the signs and signals of emotional distress and giving tips on looking after their own wellbeing. 

You can find out more about the toolkit by following this link: