Mindful Chats: In conversation with Bill Hill, CEO of The Lighthouse Club
We felt it was important to open up the conversation on how to best approach mental health awareness with some of our long-term partners. On issues such as this, it is important to align efforts and initiatives to make the greatest impact. Our mental health lead, Marion Whitty, sat down (virtually) with Bill Hill, CEO of The Lighthouse Club, on what he is doing to champion Mental Health Awareness Week and his experience of working in the field.
MW: Afternoon Bill, great to chat as always, especially during Mental Health Awareness Week. What is The Lighthouse Club doing to support the campaign?
BH: We have two major initiatives for Mental Health Awareness Week. We are offering free access for everyone in the construction sector to our five Wellbeing Short Workshops based around stress management, building resilience, work life balance, mindfulness and an introduction to meditation.
The second is really exciting. This week we have launched the new edition of our app that supports our 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline. It is also free and can be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores. Surprisingly, it is called Construction Industry Helpline.
The app is an all-encompassing experience covering information and tips on mental, physical and financial wellbeing. I am really excited about this as it is a great tool for those seeking information and self-help on a whole range of topics. As well as self-learning, the app promotes coping strategies and ultimately signposts users to national and local services to get support. Everyone in construction should have it on their phone.
MW: That sounds great. We run similar initiatives too at Countryside from hosting training sessions to sending out hints and tips to employees. What works particularly well in your experience?
BH: With the pandemic we have seen an increase of 55% in calls to our helpline from families who work in construction. We introduce professional caseworkers to help manage the most complicated cases for support. This has worked really well - imagine calling with what you believe is an insurmountable problem and somebody on the other end simply works with you to ensure you get all the support you need and help you get back on track.
MW: We’ve been working together for some time now and we at Countryside are very familiar with The Lighthouse Club and the great work you do. For those who don’t know about your work, can you tell us about how The Lighthouse Club started and what your aims are?
BH: We have been around for over 60 years and we are the only charity that is 100% dedicated to the welfare and wellbeing of construction workers and their families in the UK and Ireland.
Our mission is that “no construction worker or their family should be alone in a crisis” We do this by providing a free downloadable self-help app and a free 24/7 confidential helpline. As well, we offer free online interactive wellbeing workshops and we are currently managing a major nationwide project to train over 10,000 onsite mental health first aiders. You can see the bigger picture emerging from this, anyone in crisis can self help with the app, call us on the helpline or ultimately talk to somebody on our site - they should never be alone.
MW: The work you’ve done is impressive and commendable. The construction industry can be a tough sector when it comes to addressing mental health stigma. How much of a challenge is it to reduce the stigma of mental health in the industry?
BH: This is tough. With about 85% of the workforce in construction being male, it is a struggle to overcome the stoic norms of the way men think. There is a lot of preconditioning to overcome. There are about 6,250 suicides every year in the UK, over 5,000 of which are men. In construction, it is particularly bad. Every working day we lose two construction workers to suicide - that’s over 500 per year. Construction is the number one industry for suicides and no industry wants this accolade but why is this the case? There are many reasons but one of the biggest is being open with our feelings. Men are not preconditioned to fully express their feelings, especially in the company of other men. This is what we need to tackle in construction. This is why we have Tool Box Talks and wellbeing workshops to help create an open environment and culture.
MW: It’s clear that mental wellbeing is important for us all, so how do you personally look after your own mental health?
BH: My father was a lighthouse keeper and for the first fifteen years of my life I was brought up on a small island with only eight other people off the coast of Scotland. Paramount to my wellbeing is being happy in my own company and I think my upbringing gave me many of the tools I needed to keep my mental health in reasonable shape. Discipline is also important and celebrating small victories towards overall goals is important, whether this be family goals, physical health goals or financial goals. A good measure of your own personal integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.
MW: What are some of the tell-tale signs for someone struggling with their mental health? At Countryside, we have a very open culture which helps employees feel supported but sometimes it’s not always obvious to see that someone is struggling personally.
BH: There are many signs to look out for but the key one is to look out for change. If a person is normally quite cheery and then over a period of time they seem quiet and withdrawn, you need to ask if they are okay. Not once but twice and make time for the answer.
I have three golden steps that I always use:
- The first is from the Samaritans: Always ask twice. It’s so easy to say you are okay to someone. If you see somebody that appears to be struggling, ask again, make eye contact and wait for the answer.
- The second is from a motivational speaker called Dr. Steven Covey from his book ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’. Always seek to understand before you seek to be understood. This means when somebody does start telling you what is wrong, don’t jump to an immediate solution or trump them with your own story. They see life through their lens not yours so really listen intently before making any response. Sometimes the fact that you just listened is all they need
- The last is from the Dali Lama - always be kind! There is no reason to be unkind to another human being. This does not mean that you cannot make tough decisions but if you have to take somebody off a project don’t make them feel bad for it.
MW: I agree with you on the above. Young men do tend to cover up their problems. We’ve actually extended some of our support services and programmes to subcontractors to ensure they’re supported
BH: I don’t necessarily agree, the younger generation seem so much more open with their feelings. However, my experience suggests that they encounter a greater amount of problems as they have not necessarily built up strategies or techniques to cope with certain situations. Then if they cannot cope with those problems, we see the decline in their wellbeing.
MW: Yes, I can see your point there. Moving onto something on everyone’s minds at the moment, how do you think COVID-19 has impacted mental health? Lots of people are staying at home now more than ever before. Have you noticed any changes?
BH: The change has been significant. Over 53% of the working population in construction are self-employed, agency workers or on zero-hour contracts. They are often one or two pay cheques away from poverty. Over the last couple of months, calls to our helpline have increased by 55%. Many of the problems are financial but behind every financial problem there is an underlying mental health issue. After all, mental health is everything - the way we feel and think. In fact, I would go so far as to say there is no health without mental health.
MW: What has been the highlight of your career to date?
BH: I stopped a long time ago measuring myself on career highlights. I mentioned about Dr. Stephen Covey and his book ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’, this teaches you to transcend career goals and live life via principles that can be applied to work and family life.
MW: Finally, who is your personal mental health hero? Any last pieces of advice for anyone reading this?
BH: I have never really thought about that. I probably don’t have a single person in mind. However, I do feel blessed about my upbringing on a small island and if I am struggling with a particular issue, I simply need to go to the seaside to unwind. I try hard to learn from the past and make plans for the future as much as possible but overall, I try my best to live in the present as that is the only place you can actually live.