'A Silent Epidemic' - The Mental Health Crisis in the Construction Industry
Whilst the construction industry is a rewarding sector to work in, it unfortunately is also known to be one of the most stressful.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, with male site workers three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. This shocking statistic has promoted some change within the industry, yet more needs to be done...
A study found that 26% of construction industry professionals thought about taking their own lives in 2019 – and this is before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the industry.
Suicide kills more construction workers than falls. Depression and anxiety have overtaken musculoskeletal disorders in the sector...
It is estimated that almost half of UK construction workers have had to take time off their work due to stress or mental health issues. However these individuals have not felt comfortable telling their employers the real reason as to why they took this time off.
Job insecurity, long hours, time away from families, lack of support from HR and late payments all contribute to the issue which is now referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’.
Improvements have been made in recent years; industry leaders have publicly revealed their own struggles, businesses have trained mental health first-aiders and a host of initiatives have been launched by firms both large and small. In the most recent Mind Matters survey, it was found that 7/10 respondents (72.5%) believed mental health awareness had improved in the past year – a big improvement on the 33.7% recorded in their prior survey!
A number of organisations and programs have thrived in supporting construction workers.
Mates in Mind: Mates in mind is a registered charity operating in the UK that aims to provide clear information to employers on available support and guidance on mental health, mental illness and mental wellbeing, and how they can address this within their organisations.
Lighthouse Club: The Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity provides financial and emotional support to the construction community and their families.
Building Mental Health is an initiative run by The Lighthouse Club which provides a 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline which is the first point of contact to access a range of completely free and confidential support services including:
- Emergency Financial aid to construction families in crisis
- Advice on welfare and mental wellbeing
- Support on legal, tax and debt management matters.
What needs to be done?
Whilst there have been some fantastic steps forward, there are many more that urgently need to be taken.
Social media can be used to reach those workers who feel isolated and provide them with appropriate support. Many construction workers work alone and need to be reached out to in a personalised way.
Company training can be used to encourage the conversation and awareness of mental health in the workplace. Where financially possible, special support services should be provided and made accessible.
Along with support services, basic facilities such as hot water and bathrooms should be made a must. Unfortunately it has been found that 30% of all construction sites do not provide these essentials. This has been attributed to mental health and wellbeing issues.
Professionals in strong positions should strive to increase understanding and reduce the mental health stigma within the industry, setting a powerful example to others.
The government can implement mental health support into the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), as well as update Health and Safety relevant programs to provide mental health aid.
As Professor Charles Egbu (2019/20 president of the Chartered Institute of Building) states “For organisations to take this up, they need to be in a position where the financial environment is conducive for them to do that, and hence, we need support from government to help us in this regard.”
The construction industry must work unanimously and continuously to change the harmful stigmas and introduce positive practices within the industry.
Construction Industry Helpline 0345 605 1956 – Managed and funded by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity.
Mind, the mental health charity 0300 123 3393 – Provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
The Samaritans 116 123 – Confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.
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