MENTAL HEALTH IN CONSTRUCTION Viewpoint

MENTAL HEALTH IN CONSTRUCTION

Posted by Fabrick on 10 October 2019

It is well known that the rate of mental health issues in the UK is increasing year by year. Many people are being diagnosed with problems such as depression or anxiety and receiving the help that they need. However, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental health and wellbeing, especially in the workplace. One in six people experience mental health problems caused by stress in the workplace. Construction is a great industry to work in, but the ‘lad culture’ that accompanies the profession and extreme levels of stress means that many tradespeople are silently suffering with mental health problems. Most don’t feel that they can come forward about their struggles with depression, anxiety or any other mental health problem, because of the prejudice that is still associated with these issues. It is attitudes like this that lead to horrifying statistics such as male construction workers being three times more likely to commit suicide than men working in other industries.

Working onsite is physically dangerous and has lots of risks. But did you know that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than to fall from a great height? To know that these men and women are safer working heavy machinery, and on dizzyingly tall scaffolding than they are in their own minds is a sobering thought. So, what needs to be done to fix this issue? The first step is to know the signs, but mental health can manifest differently in every individual.

The Construction Financial Management Association has set out some helpful signs to look out for that can indicate poorly managed or untreated mental health conditions:

  • Increased lateness, absenteeism and presenteeism (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.

Physical health is already prioritised. People know that if they have the flu or a migraine they can take the day off. But what about the days where they struggle to get out of bed or leave the house because of anxiety or depression? Labelling these as different, or less important, than any other health issue does not - and will not - help anyone. Everyone needs to know that their mental health is as valued as their physical health by their bosses and colleagues. When people work in an environment that is not understanding of their needs or wellbeing, they will become even more dejected. They say that it starts at home, but in this case, it starts in the workplace.

The construction industry is dominated by men, and men can find it more difficult to speak up – particularly in an environment as masculine as construction. For too many of these men, speaking about their feelings is to admit a weakness. ‘Lad culture’ is preventing any improvement in this area as the ‘macho-man’ stereotype is passed from tradesman to apprentice again and again. The way to fix this huge issue is:

  • To allow men the space and understanding to admit that they aren’t coping
  • To provide them with the techniques to help themselves and each other.
  • To teach other site workers to spot the signs that their colleagues are struggling and encourage an open conversation between them.
  • To help them understand they can still be strong while being sad or anxious.

If you see a friend, a colleague, a boss - or anyone - suffering from the symptoms listed above, encourage them to speak. If we are to change the current culture within this and many other industries, we need to get more businesses and organisations to fully understand the issues surrounding mental health. Showing compassion and understanding towards your employees is vital to reducing the current stigma surrounding mental health.

Fabrick team members recently attended this year’s annual CABE conference in Manchester. Among the guest speakers was CITB’s (Construction Industry Training Board) Reverend Kevin Fear. The Reverend discussed Cultural Reform and urged attendees to take a look at a building mental health site < https://buildingmentalhealth.net>; a freely available, industry-wide framework and charter that looks to tackle the crisis in the construction industry. A concluding note that the Reverend referenced - and a poignant takeaway from the conference - was to ensure you ask people twice how they are. Never let someone simply say ‘I’m okay.’ Let them know that it is okay not to be okay.

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