Why We Need to do More About the Mental Health in Construction Crisis

The construction industry is facing a mental health crisis, and not enough people are talking about it.

Here we look at how serious the problem is, how we’re taking action, and what you can do to help.

As a society we’ve made huge strides by raising awareness and improving our attitudes towards mental illnesses, particularly at work. However, the fact sadly remains that change doesn’t happen overnight. Not all industries and businesses are as engaged as they should be when it comes to mental health, and this is definitely the case with the construction industry.

Construction is experiencing an industry-wide problem when it comes to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression; in fact, workers are statistically far more likely to take time off sick suffering with mental health issues than physical injuries like muscle tears or broken bones. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released some alarming statistics.

How serious is the issue?

According to the ONS, men working within the construction industry have the highest risk of committing suicide in the UK, with over 1,400 individuals taking their own lives between 2011 and 2015. Based on these findings, the suicide rate within the industry has been pegged at more than three times higher than the male national average. In 2016 alone, the number of suicides amongst males in construction was announced as 450, which is tragically more than one per day.

It isn’t just the suicide rates that are alarming. Mental illness also has a significant impact on the economy, as it is extremely costly when it comes to time spent absent from work. The ONS estimated that in 2017 alone, mental ill-health caused at least 15 million days of sickness absence across the United Kingdom.

Who is most at risk and what are the causes?

Based on ONS findings, crane operators, labourers, plasterers, painters and decorators are statistically some of the worst affected job roles within the construction industry when it comes to being absent from work due to mental illnesses.

According to experts, there are multiple factors that could be significant when it comes to the high suicide rate. For starters, the industry is still primarily male (with over 80% of workers being men) and men are generally more at risk from suicide than women are. Homesickness and loneliness have also been identified as potential causes due to workers often being away from their family for extended periods of time.

Work stress and job insecurity are also cited by experts, with the work itself usually being technical and stressful and over 50% of workers being their own boss, therefore having to continually compete for temporary and insecure project work. This lack of security and ability to plan for the future also adds to financial pressure, another key cause of stress and anxiety. To make this worse, construction workers have an above-average likelihood of picking up expensive habits such as online gambling, smoking and drinking, which can leave their pay packet dwindling.

What can you do as an employer?

1. Make making a difference a priority
As we’ve already said, change doesn’t happen overnight. The very first step that you can take as an employer is to prioritise making a difference within your business, which starts with your management team. This is a crucial first step as this can help to kickstart the process of raising awareness. It will also help your staff to commit to taking a proactive approach towards the management of mental health within your workplace.

2. Bring in a support helpline
If you don’t already have a system in place to support colleagues who are struggling with their mental wellbeing, there are several support options available, including some industry-specific initiatives. An example of this is the Construction Industry Helpline, which is a 24/7 support line funded by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity.

Ensure your staff are fully aware that this helpline is available and publicise it around your workplace through the use of cards and posters (these are available on the helpline’s website). You can also publicise the free Construction Industry Helpline mobile app which provides construction workers with access to information and guidance on important topics like anxiety, depression and stress.

3. Host a company-wide talk on mental health
The third step you can take is to host a company-wide talk with all your employees, to discuss mental wellbeing and provide further information on the mental health issues that so many people face. Hosting this talk will help your staff to identify when they are experiencing a mental health issue and feel more comfortable talking about their own wellbeing.

4. Enrol senior staff members on mental health awareness training courses
For your business to facilitate change and manage mental health issues in an effective and proactive way, it is important to first ensure that your senior staff have completed mental health awareness training. This is so that they understand how to react and what steps to take should they be approached by a member of staff who is currently struggling with their mental wellbeing.

5. Make sure you have mental health first aiders on site
The final step you can implement within your business is ensuring that you have an adequate amount of certified mental health first aiders to cover your entire workforce, including both subcontractors and fully-fledged employees. For staff members within your business to become mental health first aiders, they must complete an intensive two-day training course that is currently offered by Mental Health First Aid England.

What Ensign is doing to help

At Ensign we recognise and appreciate the sheer magnitude of this issue that our industry is currently facing, and since we work very closely with contractors, this is an issue that is very important and close to us. We’re committed to helping to stamp out the stigma associated with mental health, and in solidarity with the cause, we have signed Building Mental Health’s charter.

The charter has been created to encourage businesses and workers within the industry to embrace a proactive approach towards managing and talking about mental ill-health in the workplace, and to make as much information (including best practices) readily available to those who need it. You can find out more about Building Mental Health here.