When Designer Group founder and CEO, Michael Stone recruited Derek Murphy in the Autumn of 2019, he was adding another important piece to the jigsaw. The company, a leading international mechanical and electrical provider, had already recognised the need for a new approach to mental health in the industry. It had recognised the charitable work of John Blake, taken his story to heart and made an earnest commitment to not just talk the talk. It needed people with vision, passion, personal experience to drive the agenda.
Derek Murphy may have been new to the company, but he was no stranger to mental health anguish. His dad, Francy had suffered from severe depression for two decades, attempting suicide on one occasion. “Funnily enough, my father was always quite open about it,” said Derek. “He’d tell anyone who would listen about his mental health problems. He thought that was the best way. He was right. The only way to break the stigma attached to mental illness is if we are open about it.”
Derek Murphy is, like John Blake, one of Designer Group’s trio of Mental Health First Aiders – the trio completed by Training and Off-site Prefabrication Director, Brendan Kearns. And like John, he numbers Suicide or Survive as one of the charities he supports.
“I first became aware of John’s involvement through the Designer Group LinkedIn page. It was the Construction Industry Federation’s (CIF) Construction Safety Week and John had agreed to participate in completing a Mental Health Tool Box Talk on one of our sites. I was impressed with his passion for the subject and began following John on LinkedIn. Recently, I spoke to senior management about supporting his 20- 4-20 Challenge, another great initiative to support the mental health charity, SOS. Designer Group teamed up with the Meridian Healthcare to provide an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) to all of their staff and their families.”
“The EAP offers access to confidential, independent Irish information and guidance, with face-to- face counselling if required. We have produced a series of informative ‘In the Loop’ ezines and newsletters, plus the Happy Hour series of virtual fliers on courses, mindfulness, yoga, quizzes, and a steady stream of health and wellbeing communications throughout the coronavirus lockdown.”
Implementing such a wide-reaching strategy is a daunting task and even more so when commitments outside work include being the only family member permitted inside The Mater to see his hospitalised father during Covid 19 restrictions. And yet, Derek insists on pushing himself further, serving as a member of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Ireland’s Safety & Health Sub Committee to the Executive Body.
“I am actively involved, with other committee members, in reviewing, promoting and implementing various Wellbeing and Wellness programmes, initially to CIF member companies,” he explained. “I’m also engaging with the Lighthouse Construction Industry charity’s FREE 24/7 Helpline just launched at the start of June, and a Wellbeing App. Currently, access to an EAP is only available for those with a company EAP in place. The main benefit of all of this is that ALL construction workers will have a basic safety net to rely on 24/7, offering support when they need it.”
Derek recalls attending Aware Ireland meetings with his father, having been introduced to Dr Patrick McKeon’s organisation back in 2000. “Without the services of Aware, I truly believe my father would not have recovered from his darkest period. I learned a lot from these meetings and talking to my father and have taken a keen interest in mental health awareness issues ever since. Through my involvement in attending mental health events and fundraisers, I reconnected with a past neighbour who’d lost their partner to suicide on New Years Eve. Like me, she was passionate about tackling the stigma around mental health and I joined her charity, ‘The Andy Morgan Foundation’ and soon become a committee member.”
Just a week prior to our telephone conversation, Derek Murphy’s father, Francy, passed away in the Fairview Community Unit of Dublin’s Mater Hospital. For the two weeks since his transfer from The Mater no-one had been permitted to visit inside, communication confined to hand gestures and raised voices through a pane of glass. COVID-19 robbed the family of valuable time together, and then twisted the knife.
“What people have gone through with restricted funerals and burials in the past few weeks is horrendous,” Derek said from experience. “All people want to do is go along and pay their respects, they want to give you a hug and say sorry. And yet, they can’t.”
It’s been a particularly tough time, even for those experienced at the mental health coalface. But people like Derek Murphy don’t stay down for long. He will use this latest test to make himself stronger. It will renew his desire to change the way we think about mental health, and to bring about a time when all feel free to ask for help.
Read interview with Designer Group Site Manager and Ironman John Blake on his own journey with mental health issues and raising money for Suicide or Survive here.
Designer Group, Clyde House, IDA Blanchardstown Business & Technology Park, Snugborough Road, Dublin 15.
Some resources in Ireland and Northern Ireland if you are struggling and need someone to speak to: