World Mental Health Day 2020: My Witness Statement by Alex Axford

World Mental Health Day 2020: My Witness Statement by Alex Axford

I think if there is one thing 2020 has taught us about Mental Health is that we are all at risk of poor mental health.

I can’t stress enough that everyone has mental health, just like they have physical health which is only one of the many reasons the stigma around it needs to be left behind. It is simply a question of where you are on the good to poor spectrum of mental health.

Firstly, I am going to start with some hard hitting statistics:

  • Between 2011 and 2015, of the 13,232 in-work suicides recorded, those within the skilled construction and building trades made up 13.2% – despite construction accounting for little over seven per cent of the UK workforce (Office of National Statistics)
  • In 2014, suicide was the leading cause of death for men under 50 years of age in England and Wales, and for women aged 20–34 (
  • 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England (
  • 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week in England (
  • 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts (
  • 1 in 14 people self-harm (

I am someone who will always struggle with quite severe periods of poor mental health, because for me when it rains, it pours. It is because of this that on World Mental Health Day this year I call on everyone to do better, which I do think aligns to this year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health “mental health for all”.

What I want to see is improved awareness and capability of people in having these conversations and in being open to these conversations. It is 2020 and I still experience situations where I don’t think I could fully share my struggles or if I do it isn’t met with a true level of support, and do you know what? It is so hard. It’s hard to live with poor mental health, it’s hard to build up that courage to speak about it, and it’s so hard when it isn’t met with an adequate level of support, it sends you straight back to square one.

At a previous company when I had, what I refer to as, my main mental health breakdown, suicidal thoughts were a daily thing for me. I really struggled to share how I was feeling. I built up the courage to tell a managing director that I was having constant panic attacks at my desk. This was met with a laugh and “don’t be so silly”, and I cannot stress enough that the response is not uncommon.

I am and always will be a supporter of sharing mental health stories and it does help, but we do need industry leaders to set the example, demonstrating how we are and how we should be supporting all colleagues. It is not fair to constantly rely on those with mental health experiences to speak out, a lot of those still struggling may not know what advice to give. Whilst in this case I am a mental health first aider and would welcome being approached on that basis, advice shouldn’t necessarily be sought out from someone just because they are or have struggled. 

Let’s create those safe spaces and encourage all to be aware and open to mental health so our colleagues, our friends, our family feel safe enough to reach out in times of need.

On this basis, I asked my colleague, Mark Lyddon, who actually has put in to practice supporting a colleague through a mental health situation, to share with me some tips on how people can be more supportive of mental health and how they can be confident and comfortable in doing so.

  1. Listen and reflect (never judge)
  2. Take it seriously
  3. Don’t force anyone to talk, just be there for them
  4. Ask questions
    • What does it feel like?
    • What kind of thoughts are you having?
    • How can I help?"
  1. Don’t try and fix it – if appropriate support to get further help
  2. Let them know that you and others are there for them

I think these points shared from Mark are a perfect guide to supporting mental health effectively. Wherever you are on the mental health spectrum I hope you find this helpful.

Useful Resources – We all have Mental Health [good to share with children too] – We all have Mental Health – how to spot the signs

Ted Talk- How to practice emotional first aid

Ted Talk – Stop the Stigma

Extensive list of mental health support which can be used yourself or you can direct a colleague too

About Alex

Alexandra Axford MCInstCES, cost manager at Turner & Townsend in the infrastructure sector.

9 years’ experience of commercial management both as a Tier 1 Contractor QS and most recently as a Consultant with a variety of Clients.

Chartered Institution of Civil Engineering Surveyors Council of Management member, member of CICES EDI Council and Co-Chair of the CICES 2040 Forum.

I am extremely passionate about; challenging the mental health stigma in construction, encouraging kindness and encouraging a diverse range of young people into the industry.

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