Why We Need to Talk About Mental Health in Construction

Mental health has seen an enormous amount of media coverage in 2019. With the Royals beginning their Heads Together Campaign and mental health charity Mind campaigning across social media with well-known celebrities discussing their mental health experiences.

However, one area that remains to see a staggering impact from mental health is in the construction industry

Kevin Fear, Health & Safety lead from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), has described mental ill-health in the construction sector as ‘the silent epidemic’. 

In the construction industry alone, 454 construction workers took their own lives in 2016. Furthermore, according to statistics by the UK government, male site workers in the construction industry are three times more likely to take their own lives than the average UK male. 

Mental health in construction needs to be addressed, and the responsibility lies with everyone in the sector. Businesses must do more to support workers, and workers must become aware of recognising the signs in their team. 

Mental Health Has Overtaken Physical Health

During his speech at IOSH’s Construction Conference, Kevin Fear revealed that work-related stress, depression and anxiety have taken over physical disorders as the most commonly reported workplace health issue.

Physical health and safety remain to be an extremely serious issue in the construction industry, with fines and even prison sentences for organisations who are deemed negligent or putting their workers at risk. 

However, few construction companies put the same emphasis on mental health in the workplace. This is despite the fact that suicide now kills more people in the construction industry than falls from height. 

The same level of thought, time and investment need to go into mental health as any other possible hazard or risk on a construction site. 

Construction Stereotypes

According to the Office of National, Statistics men accounted for three-quarters of UK deaths by suicide in 2018. In England, around one in eight men are currently struggling with a mental health issue. 

Men across the UK are more susceptible to poor mental health due to the stigma and stereotypes which stop them from talking about their experiences. 

The ‘tough guy’ image is widespread, and the term ‘man up’ can be crippling for those who are suffering in silence. Asking for help, or even opening up, is not something which comes naturally to many men. 

When attitudes and stigmas continue to exist, especially in workplace culture, men are not supported or encouraged to come forward about their feelings, let alone to gain the support they need. 

A combination of these social factors can result in many men seeing their mental health issue as a ‘weakness’ and not wishing to be seen differently in the eyes of their colleagues. 

However, unrecognised and unsupported mental health issues are not just impacting construction workers. Poorly managed mental health can have a dramatic impact on a company’s revenue. 

According to the National Building Specification, poor mental health accounts for almost 70 million sick days per year, the most of any health condition. These days cost the UK economy between £70 billion and £100 billion a year. 

Demands of the Job

Alongside the social stereotypes to contend with, construction workers are in one of the most demanding roles in the UK economy.

Long hours, physically demanding workloads, stressful environments, and projects that are often far from home; a construction workers ‘work-life’ can be incredibly demanding. 

Of course, this isn’t to mention the constant uncertainty within the construction sector. Carillion’s collapse in 2018 is one shock that saw many companies and individuals out of work. 

While the job role cannot be changed due to the tight deadlines of the projects, companies must be aware of when a role may be having a negative impact on a worker’s mental health. 

Greater Support is Needed 

One thing that has clearly been identified from the data and insights is that greater support is needed in the construction industry. 

It must be a priority for construction companies to train their team in mental health first aid, so that early signs can be recognised. 

Better workplace cultures must also be established to ensure that workers feel they can talk openly about their mental health without suffering discrimination. 

There are many ways companies can begin to become better at supporting mental health. From safeguarding workers, improving training, providing counselling services, and tailoring support for at-risk employees.

Know the Signs

Mental health is an incredibly complex issue with a vast array of signs and symptoms that are unique to that individual. One mental health condition can manifest itself differently from one individual to another. 

Acting out of character is most often one of the biggest signs that something may be causing distress. 

Other signs to look out for include; 

  • Presenteeism (showing up for work, but not looking very active or focussed.) 
  • Decreased productivity 
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Isolation from other workers 
  • Increased conflict with co-workers 

The fact of the matter is that we all need to talk more about mental health in the construction industry. The statistics as they are today are unacceptable, and shocking to say the least. 

According to construction charity, The Lighthouse Club, every working day two construction workers take their own life. 

Mental health needs to be made an urgent priority by all employers in the construction sector. 

As responsible recruiters, we help look out for the welfare of our candidates by helping place them in companies that care about the welfare of their employees.  However together we can always do more to look out for each other and support colleagues to encourage positive wellbeing and mental health.