Comment – Hidden warmth within demolition…

Cracks within industry’s tough veneer where the light of humanity shines through.

Thanks to my refusal to don a pair of rose-tinted bifocals before casting my eye over the demolition landscape, I have recently been accused – variously – of being anti-demolition, a doom-monger, a sensationalist and, most recently, a girl (I know, right?).

Yet despite my miserabilist façade, there beats within my chest a waxy, pea-sized heart containing the last vestiges of humanity and emotion. And so, as Mental Health Awareness Week gets underway, I thought it might be timely to share with you a short tale of how one demolition man recently allowed his mask of invincibility to slip, and how another confirmed that kindness and demolition can co-exist. But don’t worry – I have removed the names to protect those involved.

I was perusing one of the plethora of demolition-related social media groups that have sprouted up in recent years when I came across a post from a guy that I know (though not well) and who I have always found to be generous with his time, engaging, funny and well-informed. On this occasion, however, all was not well. It seems that he was experiencing some marital issues and, over a period of three or four posts, it seemed that the guy was lonely and in pain.

I toyed with the idea of calling him up. I spent much of 2014 chomping my way through “happy pills” following the sudden death of my best friend and the heart surgery that both my parents underwent, so I can relate to the isolation and desolation of depression. But I was also mindful that this was a guy who was, at most, an acquaintance. In the end, a combination of discomfort, British reserve and – I admit it – cowardice prevented me from calling him.

Thankfully, and much to my own personal shame, none of these factors stood in the way of another demolition guy who didn’t know and had never met the protagonist of my story but who reached out to him nonetheless to give him a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

That such a small sign of compassion should be notable says much about the machismo and air of invincibility that pervades the demolition business. But when the hard hats and site boots come off, we are – each of us – vulnerable. According to the mental health charity Mind, about a quarter of the UK population will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year; and that British men are three times as likely to die by suicide than British women.

Demolition is a brutal industry, both physically and mentally. It requires working men (and women) to safeguard the lives of their fellow workers on a daily basis; it requires them to work against tight deadlines and under constant pressure and scrutiny; and it requires many to work for extended periods away from their loved ones. Against such a background, it is little wonder than some crack.

The demolition industry has an exemplary record for moving with the times. From the compulsory wearing of hard hats and PPE to the implementation of on-site drink and drugs testing, demolition has led while construction has followed.

Based on the isolated incident detailed above, perhaps the industry needs to be equally forward-thinking and pioneering in its attitude to depression and mental health issues. And there will never be a better time to set the wheels in motion than the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week.