This October it is World Mental Health Awareness Month, and Mental health is an issue that affects all types of people across all types of industries, but there seems to be more of a stigma towards it in the construction industry more than any other.
With that being said, approximately 23% of construction workers struggle with their mental health and well-being to the point where they are considering leaving the industry. In fact, suicide is the highest cause of death in the construction industry; even more than falls from a height. At RG Scaffolding-Solihull we want to get Birmingham and the West Midlands talking about Mental Health, it’s okay not to be okay!
What Is Causing This Increase in Mental Health in Construction?
Like most jobs, working in the construction industry is extremely demanding and stressful. It can take a physical toll which is understandable as construction workers are manual workers and spend the day on their feet. But there is also a mental side to the job that often gets overlooked.
Construction workers are, typically, required to work unsociable hours and can often lead to working on site away from home for weeks at a time.
This means they do not always get the work/life balance needed for positive well-being.
The job can also be very unpredictable and workers face a constant lingering uncertainty as to where there next pay slip is coming from especially when the economy is going through any sort of crisis. All of these factors make working within the construction industry difficult on one’s mental health which is causing this dramatic rise in depression.
The Mental Health Stigma in Construction
The root of this stigma towards mental health in the construction industry stems from the old-fashioned societal idea that men (and construction is a heavily male-dominated industry) must live up to a standard of showing no emotion and being ‘strong, tough guys. This is even more prevalent in the field of construction which is considered the ‘most masculine of jobs’ and, therefore, mental health issues would seem to be scoffed at.
This makes it difficult for those suffering with depression, or any other mental health issues, to speak up about them. However, as mental health and well-being becomes more of a talking point in the mainstream and other workplaces and industries take steps towards normalising, accepting and educating on it, it should lead to more discussion within the construction industry too!
“Mental Health illness is the Silent Epidemic” as described by H&S Strategy Lead of the Construction Industry training Board, Kevin Fear. Showing how work-related stress, depression and anxiety have increased over the years than construction related injuries and deaths. Kevin also explained that the construction industry has seen a rise in suicide than any other profession, with construction workers taking their own lives in 2016.
We need to know the signs:
- increased lateness, and absenteeism (showing up to work physically, but not being able to function)
- decreased productivity due to distraction and cognitive slowing
- lack of self-confidence
- isolation from peers
- agitation and increased interpersonal conflict among co-workers
- increased voluntary and involuntary attrition
- increased feelings of being overwhelmed
- decreased problem-solving ability.
What can we do to help?
The statistics as they stand are clearly unacceptable – mental health needs to be made an urgent priority by all employers in the construction industry. Emily Pearson, Head of Workplace Wellbeing at Be. The Centre for Wellbeing (a mental health charity based in Solihull, Birmingham, West Midlands specialising in corporate mental health and workplace wellbeing) has provided the following steps that all employers can take to actively improve the health and wellbeing of their workforce.
What are the steps to being Supportive?
Building a Mental Health Group for the construction industry is a fantastic idea, it will help bring those suffering together and talk about their experiences. Here are 5 key ideas that RG Scaffolding-Solihull in Birmingham suggest that you do:
- Make, and show, your commitment by signing the Building Mental Health Charter;
- Make sure your staff know about your employee assistance programme and the Construction Industry Helpline, available by phone and via their new mobile app;
- Deliver an interactive ‘tool box talk ‘to raise awareness about mental health, teach people to recognise signs that colleagues might need some support, and get conversation started;
- Train line managers and supervisors in what to do when somebody mentions a mental health issue;
- Train around one in 100 employees or subcontractors as a certified mental health first aider.
The very first step that you need to take is to recognise signs of Mental Health Illness in yourself or your workers. This includes increased lateness or absenteeism, decreased productivity, lack of confidence or socialising and generally a more negative or withdrawn attitude.
Once you have identified poor mental health, you can then take the appropriate actions to deal with it:
- Educate your workforce on mental health and well-being with a professional workshop, training or just an open conversation so that they are aware of the signs themselves and feel comfortable enough to talk about their struggles with mental health.
- Make sure that employees have access to and are aware of support that is available to them such as counselling.
- Provide your own support where possible whether it be having them visit a doctor who can sign them off from work on sick leave for a week or two or allowing them more flexibility with their work so they can spend more time at home.
- Reduce the stigma and culture on site by encouraging positive, open dialogue and punishing those who are seen to be bullying or harassing colleagues who are struggling with mental health issues.
It only takes a few hours of your time to speak to workers and make sure that everything is okay should you be concerned about their well-being, and it could save a life. So, do your part in this important conversation about mental health in the construction industry.
In the employment team, we are aware that mental health is a big issue in any workplace but we were shocked at the statistics that we discovered regarding, predominantly, male mental health: –
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. However, male site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average male in the UK.
Suicide kills more construction workers than falls.
Depression and anxiety have overtaken musculoskeletal disorders in the construction sector.
In 2014, 4,623 men took their own life, which equated to one man every 2 hours.
According to the Office of National Statistics, between 2011 and 2015, of the 13,232 in-work suicides, the construction industry accounted for 13.2% of these. This comes despite the industry accounting for, at the time, roughly 7% of the UK workforce.
In 2016 454 construction workers committed suicide.
In a 2017 survey, 73% construction workers felt their employers did not recognise the early signs of mental health. Consequently, 23% of those surveyed were considering leaving the industry, in the next 12 months, due to poor mental health.
Despite mental health being reported frequently in other sectors, the construction industry has the lowest self-reported cases. Research suggests that employees who are absent are more likely to lie about the reason when it is related to mental health, as opposed to physical health. Some research states that 95% of those taking time off because of stress gave a different reason for their time off.
According to the National Building Specification, mental health accounts for people taking almost 70 million days off sick per year. This costs the UK economy an estimated £70 billion to £100 billion per year. Some estimate that the average UK employee costs £1,035 per year from sickness absence.
What are our Thoughts?
It isn’t difficult to appreciate how the demanding work environment of construction workers, who may be subject to long hours, dangerous and sometimes costly work, working away from home, could affect or even cause mental health issues. However, the Scaffolding industry now has an opportunity to play a fundamental role in changing the perceptions of Mental Health and eradicate the stigma of asking for help. There is also an app called the Construction Industry Helpline developed to help give advice and guidance to those who are struggling with Mental health Illnesses.
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