Tackling mental health in construction

St Ives Scaffolding - Tackling mental health in construction

Mental health issues are a growing problem across the UK, and the construction industry is suffering too. Two construction workers take their own lives every year, and 1 in 4 in the construction industry considered suicide in the last 12 months.

These shocking statistics threaten to leave a stain on the industry. Unfortunately, it’s a difficult problem to solve - every incidence of mental illness has its own cause. However, when it comes to suicide among construction workers, there may be a broader issue at hand. A primary trigger is the stigma that remains over the issue of mental illness, particularly in an industry that values traditional masculinity.

From crippling anxiety to clinical depression, one in three construction workers has taken time off work due to mental health problems. With a third of all workers in areas stretching from short-term scaffolding to long-term building work suffering these effects, why do so few choose to come forward?

Keeping it in

The primary problem with any mental illness is that those suffering often feel an inability to discuss it, even with those closest to them. This could be for a number of reasons, but the most overbearing one is the idea that it might make them look weak.

In construction specifically, workers handle physically and mentally demanding tasks. Jobs can come and go, with little security or even warning. Hard conditions like these can contribute to a severe fatigue that builds up over time - potentially leading to something far worse.

Blokes and Banter

It can be tempting for construction workers suffering from mental illness to hide behind banter and bravado. Sadly, this makes it worse, contributing to an environment where workers are reluctant to speak up for fear of being mocked or even chastised.

Although the tides are slowly changing, women still only make up around 9% of the global construction workforce and this male-dominated culture can lead to men encouraging the worst behaviours in each other.

What to Look For

There are a number of telltale signs that a worker might be suffering and is in need of some support. If somebody you know or work with is exhibiting any of these signs (particularly if you spot more than one), don’t be afraid to reach out.

  • A personality change - Becoming more withdrawn and less confident (or the opposite, becoming much louder and more over the top) or showing signs of increased irritability and/or aggression. This is particularly notable if you find the co-worker in question arguing more than they used to.
  • Finding a crutch - They are seeking the answers at the bottom of a bottle and drinking more than they used to or indulging more frequently in the vices they once shunned.
  • Concentration - An inability to properly focus and concentrate on the task at hand is vital in professional construction, but somebody suffering through mental health issues might also be struggling with their concentration levels.
  • Memory - Forgetting things that once seemed important can be another sign of mental illness.
  • Social behaviour - Have you noticed an increase in socially unacceptable behaviour being exhibited by the person in question? This can often be a classic ‘cry for help’ for those struggling with an illness they are too scared to talk about openly.
  • Trigger events - From health problems to a break down in long-term relationships or family bereavements, it’s important to track events that could trigger a breakdown in mental health in your employees or co-workers.

What To Say

Arguably the most important question here is how to approach the people you think might be at risk. However, every conversation surrounding mental health begins with a simple “Are you ok?” It might not sound like much, but these small steps can lead to major breakthroughs further down the line.

Once you’ve opened that dialogue there are also a number of charities you can direct them towards, such as Building Mental Health and the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity. The most vital step is always just taking the time out of your day to ask. You’d be amazed what a difference a simple question can make!