World Mental Health Day is a chance to talk about mental health in general, how we need to look after it, and how important it is to talk about things and get help if you are struggling.
The theme of 2022's World Mental Health Day, set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is “Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority”. And for the global construction industry, this couldn’t be truer.
In the UK, it is predicted that one in four of us will be experiencing mental health problem this year. Nine in ten people who have experienced a mental health problem have faced negative treatment from others as a result. And yet, despite the prevalence of mental illness a considerable stigma still exists.
Recent statistics indicate that suicide is the biggest killer of construction workers under the age of 45. More worryingly, male site workers are three times more likely to take their own life than the average male in the UK. On average, two construction workers are taking their own lives every working day. Faced with these statistics , it’s evident that we need to open up conversations on mental health in construction and related industries.
In the last three years since Brexit, the UK industry has dealt with a global pandemic, a massive shortage of workers and uncertainties when it comes to materials and pricing. With a variety of pressures – from time-sensitive contracts to long hours – it can be difficult to spot if someone is struggling, especially if contractors are only working on a job for a few months before moving to their next project.
As an industry, construction workers face high pressures daily, and can be more likely to experience work-related stress than average. This a problem that we need to take responsibility for as a sector and do more to put in place opportunities that help with prevention.
Research suggests that open and honest communication about mental ill-health supports steps toward suicide prevention. These important conversations have the power to increase awareness and understanding, remind people they are not alone and help break the stigma which can be a barrier for those seeking help. Signposting to support services and creating a culture of openness can all help improve attitudes towards mental health.
In the UK, charities such as Mates in Mind exist to support construction companies prioritise the mental health of their employees, with programmes and guidance offered to help open up conversations around mental health. And just this year, the UK & Ireland Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity launched its text HARDHAT to 85258 service to provide immediate wellbeing support to the construction community.
In construction businesses, the rise of services and support is increasing. Companies like Skanska have been working with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, where they designed and implemented a mental health training programme to empower a network of Mental Health First Aiders (MHFAiders®). These individuals are given the skills and knowledge to spot the signs of mental ill health among their colleagues, offer support, and signpost them to further help.
Construction News’ Mind Matters Survey has shown some progress has been made in the last few years when it comes to de-stigmatising mental health. In 2021, the survey found that 59 per cent of workers did not tell their employer that the reason they needed time off was for mental health. Although this figure is alarming, it is an improvement. In 2019, 72 per cent of construction workers said they could not be honest with their employers about why they needed time off.
For the Considerate Constructors Scheme, spotlighting mental wellbeing should be as much of a priority for construction firms as health and safety schemes that are in place to protect the physical health of colleagues.
Amit Oberoi, Non-Executive Chairman of the Considerate Constructors Scheme says: “Opening up an honest conversation about mental health in the workplace is a crucial and effective starting point. Supporting people to recognise that everyone has mental health which can vary depending on circumstances and life stresses, and there is absolutely no shame if you’re struggling.
“We cannot underestimate the impact that work-related stress can have on individuals as well as how fatigue, poor nutrition, and time away from home can all be contributing factors to mental health issues of construction workers. A discussion with your line or site manager can often help and shouldn’t be seen as a weakness or failure to cope.”
Resources are available from a variety of organisations including the sScheme’s mental health factsheet, or by engaging with the Construction Industry Helpline – a free resource that supports workers and their families with mental wellbeing advice, financial aid and support on debt management matters, amongst other things.