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23 May 2023

Time to act over mental health epidemic in construction industry

With men who work in building three times more likely than the national average to take their own lives , employers must do more to encourage them to seek help

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There is a mental health epidemic in the construction industry. In the UK, two UK construction workers take their own lives each day, which is 10 times more than those lost to health and safety accidents.

In the UK, 74% of all suicides are by men, with those working in construction three times more likely to die by suicide than is the national average for men.

But 56% of construction professionals work in an organisation with no clear policies on mental health in the workplace.

A change of approach

With some of the worst mental health and suicide rates in the UK, organisations need to change their approach to wellbeing and start meeting people’s needs.

According to the National Building Specification, stress, anxiety and depression account for 20% of all work-related illnesses within the construction industry. It is estimated that this costs employers somewhere between £70bn-£100bn annually.

In 2022, mental health charity Mates in Mind posted the findings from its study of self-employed construction workers or those working in small firms. The study highlighted the stigma for those within the industry that prevents workers from discussing their problems with friends or family. In fact, over two-thirds say stigma prevents them from talking and almost half find it hard to speak about their mental health.

With a third suffering from elevated anxiety levels daily, 44% worry their workload is too high. Intense workloads, financial issues, poor work-life balance and persisting Covid-19/Brexit pressures on supply chains are contributing to significantly increased stress and anxiety levels.

Physically and mentally demanding

Physical demands of the nature of their work and job insecurity due to the cost-of-living crisis can also be major contributors to poor wellbeing.

Education and training is key to driving change within the construction industry. Education on looking after oneself, developing healthier habits and how to recognise when something isn’t quite right (for example, poor sleep, increased irritability/emotion, problems focusing) can all help encourage someone to seek help.

Actions employers can take help to protect and serve construction workers’ wellbeing:

1. Education on breaking the stigma, how it affects others and how common problems within the industry are may give someone the courage find to help and be honest with those around them (including their employer) when things aren’t going well.

2. Commitments to raising awareness and building an open culture where mental health is not a taboo, but encourages people to speak up and share experiences. Consider setting up ‘wellbeing champions’.

3. Investing in wellbeing assessments and make improvements where necessary.

4. Ensuring employees have access to counselling/therapy support and wellbeing resources can help save and change lives when someone is in a moment of distress or needs long-term support.

5. Ensure health and safety policies are updated to include aspects of mental health and how each employee can access different types of support. Mental health can affect performance and people may be hesitant to reach out for help. Employees should feel comfortable when time off is necessary to be able to return to work when properly recovered.

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