It is time for the construction industry to take a preventative and proactive approach to mental health challenges
Research demonstrates that those working in the construction sector, including associated trades and businesses, have the highest rates of mental ill health.
Son: “My Dad was a good man.”
Colleague: “He was a great guy to work with.”
Daughter: “If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.”
Wife: “You should always ask for help.”
These are the heartbreaking voices of Chris’ family and friends. Chris worked in construction for 30 years. In 2019, he took his own life.
As World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September) and World Mental Health Awareness Day (10 October) approach, it has never been more important that we all work together to eradicate the stigma and silence around mental health, and vitally, that we start the conversation.
How bad is it?
- Stress, depression or anxiety account for 44% of all work-related ill health cases (Health and Safety Executive).
- 17.5 million working days were lost due to mental health-related sickness absence (ONS).
- A third of construction workers live with severe levels of anxiety.
- In 2021, there were 6,319 suicides registered in the UK, of which 507 were in construction alone – an average of two people taking their own life every working day (House of Commons Library).
- Workers in construction have a 3.7 times higher risk of suicide than the national average (ONS).
These shocking statistics demonstrate that it is time we address mental health – we all have it, after all.
And yet, recent research found that talking about mental health is still perceived as slightly taboo in the workplace.
The most common reason, cited by two-fifths (39%) of people, was that they feel they would be judged negatively if they opened up about their mental health. According to the research, 36% stated they would feel too exposed and vulnerable.
Many organisations have started to tackle mental health across their workplaces. However, the emphasis is often focused on what support is available once someone reaches crisis, rather than looking to identify and mitigate the contributing factors.
This is where we can make the difference together to stop people becoming unwell through their work.
A tick-box approach to mental health with an over-reliance on safety nets is not creating the change we need.
Currently, there is still too much variation and inconsistency, which is why we need to think differently as an industry.
At Mates in Mind, we are creating a movement for change through our supporters, who are engaged not only in transforming their own workplaces, but also in raising awareness, removing the stigma and empowering their networks.
Together, we are building a community.
Why does it matter?
Employers are under a legal duty to assess the risk of workplace stress for their workers and to take appropriate action to ensure their wellbeing.
Moreover, organisations also have a moral duty to their staff. Good mental wellbeing has positive impacts on everyone – for example, confidence, purpose, achievement, positive relationships and inclusion.
Finally, it also benefits the business – increased productivity, a reduction in sickness and staff turnover – and it demonstrates that you are a good, safe and supportive place to work.
What can we do?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to address this issue in a few short paragraphs.
However, at Mates in Mind we advocate for a preventative and proactive strategy. We know that a “one size fits all” approach will not work for every organisation.
Therefore, our holistic model to support a culture change across organisations, with an empowered management and workforce, is key to our success working with supporters across the industry.
If you are ready to start the conversation within your organisation, we have a number of free resources available on the Mates in Mind website, including the infographic shown here, which helps identify if a colleague needs support.
Remember, you are not alone. There is always someone to talk to.
Sarah Meek is managing director at Mates in Mind.
Mental health support and advice for CIOB members, past members and related family is available through CIOB Assist.