Mental health in construction

26 March 2019

Man with blue ezes looking at himself in a broken mirror

People are talking more and more about mental health these days but are companies acting to support their employees? The construction industry and the lifestyle that comes with it can be filled with stress factors. Whatever role you are in, there may be challenges such as pressure to meet deadlines, finding work, job insecurity and financial problems; low pay or not getting paid at all.

In the most extreme cases the stress factors can increase to dangerous levels, expressing themselves in harmful behaviour. In the UK, the average risk of suicide is the highest for skilled trades occupations, and elementary occupations such as construction. Alarmingly the number of affected workers continues to rise. This is not a great pedestal to be on. According to the Samaritans’ report, in 2017, over six thousand people lost their life prematurely due to suicides in the UK. The highest suicide rate was among men aged 45-49.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) reported that: “suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. It’s a shocking statistic, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Few people go through life without, at some point, having a suicidal thought or feeling.”.

The workforce in the construction sector is predominantly male and has a range of previously mentioned factors recognised as likely stressors. Any combination of these factors can potentially lead to harmful thoughts.

According to the latest statistics by ONS (Office for National Statistics) and CFMA (Construction Financial Management Association), construction is the industry with one of the highest levels of mental health problems. This leads to men in building to be three times more likely to commit harmful behaviour such as suicide compared to any other industry. To put that in perspective, it is 6x more probably for a construction worker to die from suicide than from falling off the buildings they work on.

So, what can you do? Look out for signs. Although mental problems can have various symptoms, some more recognisable than other, the most important thing is to look out for each other. We all have colleagues, friends and co-workers we care about and spend a lot of time with. Make sure you talk to each other, especially if you notice sudden changes in behaviour and attitude or people isolating themselves. There are online courses that can be undertaken for free to help with spotting the signs. CFMA published some great research with a list of symptoms which you can find here.

There are also a couple of great initiatives such as Mates in Mind. If your employer is not currently aware of the mental issues and problems construction workers may suffer from, or there are no support services promoted and available for you, it might be time to highlight Mates in Mind. The charity has some great support material available for both employers and individuals.

The Construction Industry Helpline is available 24/7 in case you or a colleague need any help, call them and they will be able to guide you through any concerns. They have also just published an app for iOS and Android which enables you to track your mood and advises on how to deal with mental health flareups. It is imperative that people and businesses realise that deciding to ignore the problem for an extra few weeks could be enough to affect lives forever. It’s time we all became more aware and connected in the industry to ensure we all move forward successfully, together.

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