In addition to the risk of physical injury, construction workers deal with considerable mental stress, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and, in particular, the shutdown of sites for a period earlier this year.
Fortunately, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) provides a number of services to assist workers and others to deal with mental health challenges. And with the onslaught of the pandemic, CMHA Ontario moved quickly to add to its program inventory.
By the beginning of April a COVID Resources tab had been added to the website of Mental Health Works, a social division of the association which delivers workplace training.
“It was identified that workplaces, workers, and their families would experience high levels of anxiety and uncertainty,” says CMHA Ontario’s health and safety advisor program manager, Lawrence Blake.
A series of free webinars dealing with issues of social isolation and loneliness were also posted online during April, attracting 10,000 viewers.
The information presented during those webinars has now been incorporated into its ‘Product Suite Catalogue’ of training modules.
In response to a question about the specific assistance that can be provided to contractors, Blake says that Mental Health Works recognizes, “the vital role construction plays in our increasingly integrated economy—it is a vital part of society.”
It has worked with construction unions and last year it conducted an onsite workshop for AECON, plus holding a second one for Senate Construction earlier this year before the pandemic struck.
Asked about the nature and content of the construction-specific workshops, Blake says its facilitators cover topics such as stress, resiliency, and operational stress injury.
The overall objective of all its workshops is to pass on “tactics, techniques, and procedures” management and staff can utilize in order to improve psychological health and safety on the workplace.
While those onsite sessions have been replaced by virtual ones, there has not been a slowdown or a stop in their delivery, he says. “Our calendar is booked solid until the end of the year.”
Less uncertain is the resumption of a two-day Certified Psychological Health and Safety Advisor Training program. Offered every two to three months, the sessions usually are attended by at least two to three contractor and/or construction union representatives, he says.
“Right now this program is paused due to travel requirements and the enclosed workspace of groups. We hope to resume in person training shortly,” says Blake, noting that an opening date depends on the advice of public health officials.
Another CMHA Ontario aid is BounceBack, a free guided self-help program, in which people over the age of 15 who are dealing with mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression or issues such as stress or anger, can find help though telephone coaching, skill-building workshops, and online videos.
First developed in Scotland, the program was launched as trial pilot in 2015 in the geographic area served by CMHA Ontario’s York/South Simcoe branch and then implemented throughout the province as fully-funded Ministry of Health service in 2017.
That provincial roll-out came after the pilot showed strong results in terms of high referral and enrollment numbers, high participant satisfaction and improvements in scores of depression, anxiety and quality of life, says Dr. Deanne Simms, Ontario Structured Psychotherapy Program clinical director.
First step in accessing the service is obtaining a referral from a nurse practitioner, a doctor or other medical professional such as physiatrist or “they can refer themselves online,” says Simms.
For those with limited or no English skills, there is a box on the referral form where the user or their primary care provider can indicate they prefer coaching in another language.
“If an individual requires a language outside of our available languages, then a coach has access to an interpretation service that will act as a third party on the phone calls.”
There is an initial telephone screening process before a client can enroll in the program which includes a maximum of six, 20- to 25-minute long session with a coach. All the BounceBack coaches receive ‘robust’ nine- to 12-week training delivered by clinical psychologists who provide them with regular, ongoing support, and oversight, she says.
It is not mandatory for participants to talk with the coaches and they can complete the other components of BounceBack on their own, says Simms. “But the coaches make the program come alive.”
With some doctors’ office closed or partially closed during the pandemic, the promotion of BounceBack has been more challenging, even while the need for the service is more crucial, she says.
“We had a 48 per cent enrollment increase and a 22 per cent increase in referrals in August compared to the same period last year.”
Other resources which may be helpful to the construction industry include a COVID-19 return to the workplace tookit: https://ontario.cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/CMHA_ReturnToWorkplace-Toolkit_EN-Final.pdf
Also available is a free guide to help employers and employees understand their rights regarding workplace accommodations for mental health: http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/mental-health-workplace-accommodation-guide-managers-staff/