September 25, 2020

WHEN THE COVID-19 CRISIS HIT the construction industry, the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan quickly adapted to its new reality – and even provided additional services to members during an exceptionally difficult time.

CIRP executive director Vicky Waldron said the construction industry has had to deal with the effects of COVID-19, just like other industries. For CIRP, this has meant delivering services online instead of face-to-face.

“We thought we’d see a drop in numbers when we started the online services,” she said, adding that there has always been a preference for human contact when talking about mental health. While there was a drop initially, this didn’t last long, and there was even a slight increase, she said.

People had the same types of concerns, such as depression and anxiety, that they were having before the COVID-19 crisis, said Waldron. But the difference during COVID-19 was that these issues seem to intensify.

“It was like the volume had been turned up,” she said. For example, people reported using more alcohol and drinking more frequently than before COVID-19.

CIRP adapted quickly to the new situation by moving to online services.

“We had a disaster plan already in place for things like fire or earthquakes,” said Waldron. “We weren’t expecting to have to implement it for something like COVID-19. We managed to contact all of our clients very quickly,” she said. “We were up and running within an hour.”

CIRP also launched a series of online weekly webinars to address mental health issues in the construction industry. The mental health check-ins featured guest speakers on topics like coping with loneliness and anxiety. Some of the webinars were co-hosted by the BC Centre for Women in the Trades (BCCWITT). The resulting 30-minute “bites” were designed for people to watch on their work breaks.

“We didn’t want to pull people off the tools, or keep them off the job for too long,” said Waldron. Waldron said the initial idea for the webinars was to provide services to remote communities, however, COVID-19 accelerated the process.

The webinars were interactive in that they allowed participants to comment or ask questions. In the session on loneliness, for example, a participant asked about dealing with social isolation. Waldron explained that even though we are physically distant, we can still be emotionally connected.

“People can do things like meet for dinner like they normally would, but they can do this through video media,” she said. “It’s super important that you’re reaching out to people.”

BCCWITT co-ordinator Lindsay Kearns said giving mental health issues consideration is crucial, particularly at this time.

“The pandemic is an added stressor that can be the breaking point for many who are already struggling,” said Kearns, who co-hosted some of the mental health webinars.

She noted that women in trades are uniquely affected by the pandemic as they may be facing their own journeys with mental health and addictions. Furthermore, tradeswomen are often safe confidants for their male co-workers, who otherwise might not reach out when they are having difficulties, she said.

Waldron said that CIRP has also been able to provide some important low-barrier supports to people during the COVID crisis. “You just call us and say, ‘we want help.’ There are no forms, no hoops,” she said. “Every aspect of care is managed. For example, if you need help looking for a psychiatrist, we will help and hold your hand, depending on your capacity, or we will make the appointment for you.” The earlier someone comes in for help, the better the outcome, she said.

“We recognize that substance use and mental health issues are so complex and our case manager will support you in all areas of your life,” said Waldron. “There is no point where we go, that’s not our job.’”

By Megan Terepocki