BC construction taking COVID-19 mental health threats seriously

Journal of Commerce | Peter Caulfield | October 30, 2020

Like a hulking, surly teenager who knows how to press our buttons, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a coronavirus with attitude, and it’s driving us around the bend.

The mental health aspect of the pandemic is a growing problem, and the B.C. construction industry is taking it seriously.

For example, BC Construction Safety Alliance  has on its website numerous links to resources for handling COVID-19 https://www.bccsa.ca/index.php?id=455

“As the pandemic goes on, it’s been having a growing impact on the way many people handle their day-to-day activities,” said Darin Hughes, president of Scott Construction Group. “We’ve been seeing more people who are agitated, impatient, angry and anxious. And it’s led to drink and drug abuse, too.”

Hughes says the pandemic situation is “really fluid” now.

“As COVID-19 progresses, we will have to adjust and be flexible,” he said.  “Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help people in construction who are suffering.”

Hughes represented the construction industry at a recent panel of industry leaders who discussed the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and wellness in the workplace.

In addition to Hughes, the panel included representatives of the municipal,  forestry, trucking, hospitality, arts and entertainment and agriculture sectors.

The panel was coordinated and hosted by the BC Municipal Safety Association (BCMSA).

Christine Zielke, BCMSA operations manager, BC Municipal Safety Association, says the panel looked at some examples of how COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of the workforce in a variety of industries.

“We know the workforce is experiencing an increase in mental health concerns,” Zielke said. “Our hope was to show the varied ways different organization help mitigate this.”

Unless we have contracted the disease ourselves, or know someone who has, most of what we know – or think we know – comes from second-hand sources of information, the most important one being the media, mainstream and otherwise.

Byng Giraud, president of Sedgwick Strategies Inc. in Vancouver, says we need to exercise “healthy skepticism” about we read and hear about the pandemic in the media.

“Question everything and develop a skeptical mind,” said Giraud. “If you read something and you’re not sure about it, go directly to the source and check it for accuracy. Use Google Translate if the text is in a language you don’t understand.”

Because we’re bombarded with information, we look for proxies we think we can trust to interpret that information for us.

“We cling to the pronouncements of trusted leaders, but we shouldn’t rely on them to make our decisions for us,” said Giraud. “Go to the primary sources and make up your own mind.”

Any idea on any subject should stand or fall on its own merits.

“Don’t dismiss an opinion because you don’t like the person expressing it, and don’t support one because you like or admire the individual behind it,” Giraud said.

Vancouver psychologist Lynn Superstein-Raber says the patients with pandemic-related mental health problems she has treated manifest a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, withdrawal from others, irrational thinking and alcohol and drug abuse.

“One of the sources of the problem is the hype in the media about the pandemic and the conflicting and contradictory news and opinions about it,” said Superstein-Raber. “The effect can be traumatizing to the mind and body. It can cause us to lose our perspective on who we are, where we are and what we’re doing.”

She says the constant media hype “is like a water torture, a non-stop drip-drip-drip of anxiety on our heads,” which can lead to irrational thinking.

In addition, we should tune out the COVID-19-related noise that flows over the border from the U.S.

“The reality is that COVID-19 is a virus and it will go away,” said Superstein-Raber. “In the meanwhile, while we’re waiting to return to more normal times, we need to do things to protect ourselves and other people, such as wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing and washing our hands.”

Talk only to rational people, she says, and ignore overly opinionated individuals who think they’re experts.

 “Stay in the here and now, and don’t waste time speculating about what we don’t know and can’t know,” said Superstein-Raber. “Listen to what Dr. Bonnie Henry says: Be kind, be calm, be safe.”

Henry, who is B.C.’s  chief provincial health officer, says infectious diseases cause a fear in people that is different from other types of disasters.

“A lot of it comes from not understanding and not knowing and not being able to see these things that are causing disease,” said Henry in an April 2020 CBC interview.