Battling mental health issues in the construction industry

The stigma surrounding mental health has started a journey, as more businesses across different industries are beginning to provide appropriate support for staff.

However, the construction industry is still falling behind other sectors, with men in the industry three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. This shocking statistic is a vivid reminder that there are still significant difficulties faced by those who are working in the building sector every single day.

Physical health is very much at the forefront of the industry’s efforts, with on-site safety being the best it’s ever been. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for mental health awareness and management. A fifth of all ill-health cases in the sector stem from mental health issues, resulting in around 400,000 working days lost every year. Shockingly, data from the Office for National Statistics found that just over 13% of the recorded 13,232 suicides (by occupation) between 2011 and 2015 were those in skilled construction and building trades, despite the construction industry accounting for only seven per cent of the UK workforce.

The construction industry is essential to the UK economy contributing around £113bn a year according to government statistics. It is therefore vitally important that mental health is drastically improved among workers. But what is causing this spike in mental health issues?

Why the construction industry?

Several factors make the construction industry lifestyle one that is undoubtedly challenging and stressful for employees. Demanding and long working hours, working away from home for long periods, and the underlying job security unease following the collapse of Carillion in 2018 are all drivers of anxiety and stress. Couple this with the typical ‘tough guy’ image, which tends to be widespread throughout the industry, and it becomes easy for mental health issues to take root and overwhelm those suffering.

The physical nature of the job can also leave workers out of work due to injuries, and this again can create stress, anxiety and the likelihood of periods of depression. Added to this is a lack of paid sick leave, holidays or access to health programmes from some organisations, means it is harder for those suffering to get the help they need.

Across wider society, the awareness surrounding mental health is increasing, but it is taking time to filter through to the industry. Asking for help and opening up about feelings are not natural processes for most people employed in the sector.

Do we have a solution?

Shaking off the stigma attached to talking about mental health won’t be an easy task, but we are starting to see the industry wake up and take action. Social movements like ‘Time to Change’ are aiming to alter the way the industry thinks and acts about mental health.

blu-3 has signed the ‘Time to Change Pledge’ and we provide talks and sessions that are guided by the initiative to focus on ending the stigma around mental health. More recently, we also created a Mental Health Steering Group and are working alongside the Lighthouse Club charity, who recently launched a free helpline for those who are dealing with any issues.

Importantly, blu-3 has fully trained mental health first aiders working across the business and available around the clock for employees to contact regarding any challenges that emerge. A group chat called Mental Wealth has also been created by these first aiders to provide support for those who need it.

The initiatives outlined are incredibly worthwhile. However, they are unlikely to help the industry fully overcome the issue of stigma, which places a block on a significant number of workers reaching out for help. The sad truth is that many employees will never reach out to employers or services to seek support, and we have a tremendous opportunity to make some effort to fix that.

Moving forward

Physical health and safety are taken extremely seriously in the construction industry. However, statistics show that the most dangerous aspect of a building site is in the mind. Whether human error or intentional action, employees are at the centre of risk and mental health can exacerbate the issue.

Suicide is killing more people in the industry than on-site accidents. So, it only seems reasonable to treat mental health in the same vein, ensuring the same amount of time, thought and investment goes into building awareness and management of its impact on employees.

Steps are being taken by leading figures in the industry to help reduce the stigma around mental health and improve the support available, but there is still a long way to go, and we must encourage more engagement and discussion on the topic if anything is ever going to change.

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