How mental health initiatives can help construction workers

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Written by Evelyn Long on 23 August 2021 in Features
Features

Evelyn Long looks at how to improve mental health provision in an industry often overlooked.

The construction industry has its fair share of hazards — unexpected falls, dangerous work zones and the risks associated with using heavy equipment. Injuries on construction sites can range from minor to severe, depending on a variety of factors. Unfortunately, when people think of dangers in the construction industry, employee mental health doesn’t often come to mind.

Many industries struggle to address the issue of mental health in the workplace. Employees work hard to complete their daily job responsibilities, and sometimes, mental health issues fall to the backburner. Today, many public and private groups are working to reverse this trend and develop more programs to support employees with personal and professional uncertainty.

Construction workers are especially vulnerable to suffering from a mental health condition for a variety of reasons. Whether they have PTSD from an accident or struggle with depression, industry leaders must come together to address these prevalent issues.

It’s important to discuss why construction workers are more likely to struggle with mental health conditions. By identifying the reasons for their struggle, the industry will be better equipped to handle employee concerns and get them the help they need.

Construction workers and mental health

Before diving into the relationship between construction workers and their mental health, it’s important to note how much of the industry comprises men. In 2020, around 89% of the 10.7m workers in the construction industry were male.

The appearance of being strong is essential for many men, and looking vulnerable or emotional is often seen as weak.

Construction is a male-dominated industry, which may be one reason why mental health discussions aren’t as prevalent.

Breaking the stigma

It’s no secret that men suffer from mental health issues, but there’s a debilitating stigma surrounding the topic. The appearance of being strong is essential for many men, and looking vulnerable or emotional is often seen as weak.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that male employees working for construction companies have one of the highest rates of suicide compared to other industries.

Because suicide is a sensitive topic, it’s challenging to discuss the contributing factors that lead to such a high rate. However, it’s necessary to take preventative measures to help employees before they reach this point.

Addressing the gaps

Industry leaders need to consider the impact projects can have on their employees. Construction workers tend to work long, exhausting hours that take a toll on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, which can negatively impact the ability for workers to connect with clients and complete projects on time.

 

When there are limited projects, workers will often have seasonal schedules, so they may not work on-site consistently. It may be challenging for them to find work between their primary role as a construction worker, resulting in feelings of sadness and unworthiness due to unemployment.

Being unable to provide for their loved ones can also cause low self-esteem and other mental health concerns. Because mental health disorders impact everyone differently, there’s no clear-cut way to define how they affect construction workers.

Looking at the hardships workers face in their daily lives and the effects of overworking provides some insight into what causes mental health issues in construction employees.

According to the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Program (CIRP) research, 83% of construction workers reported that they had experienced a mental health issue, whether moderate or severe. This is a staggering number — and it’s something that requires serious attention.

How employers can support construction workers

Companies take workplace safety very seriously, and the same should apply to mental health concerns. Fostering a healthy work environment that prioritises emotional wellbeing is crucial in an industry struggling with mental health issues.

Here are some tips industry leaders can use to create a safe, welcoming environment for their construction workers:

  • Offer quality employee assistance programs. Companies across all industries offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) to their workers as a benefit. Many EAPs provide counselling options for employees, and it remains confidential. Counselling can be a helpful tool for construction workers who feel stigmatized and could make a massive difference in handling their mental health.
  • Embrace open communication. When employees come forward to discuss issues they’re facing, they should feel comfortable sharing their stories and willing to be honest. Both a co-worker at the same level or someone higher up in the organisation should take their concerns seriously.
  • Provide suicide prevention resources. Due to the high rate of suicide in the construction industry, employers must offer resources for suicide prevention. One organisation standing up to create awareness is the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, who provide training opportunities and screenings for both employees and employers to utilise.

Changes to how the construction industry treats mental health concerns won’t happen overnight. Still, there needs to be more conversation regarding the issue. Employees should be able to prioritise their mental health, and employers should support them on that journey.

Mental health initiatives for construction workers

Due to the number of mental health issue cases and the suicide rate in the construction industry, it's paramount that industry leaders intervene. The numbers speak for themselves — construction workers need more access to valuable resources that allow them to improve their mental health. Comprehensive mental health care will be the foundation of change in this industry.

 

About the author

Evelyn Long is a writer and editor of Renovated, a web resource for industry professionals.

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