May is Mental Health Awareness Month which is why there are more company posts dedicated to it, but not many focus on mental health in construction. The construction industry workers are not immune, and also experience mental health hiccups and sometimes long term illness. It’s important to raise awareness to issues within the industry and potential solutions to improve worker health and safety.
Mental Health in Construction
Mental health in construction has gotten more attention over the last couple of years, but it isn’t enough. Taking one month out of the year or one week out of the year to educate people on resources and signs isn’t enough time and doesn’t set your workforce up for success.
The construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates amongst workers; in fact, it made the top 3 industries (CDC). People in the skilled trades are at a greater risk of mental health issues than the general population (NIH). Men in the skilled trades at a 35% greater risk of suicide, and the number increases when you look at the building trades specifically (ONS). The construction industry has high injury rates, and significant mental distress is associated with injury rate (NIH). Because of these and other statistics, it’s important to consider how mental health affects workers on a regular basis and consider implementing new programs to support them.
Why It Matters
Some might say that this is their business and a company isn’t responsible for the mental health of their employees. However, there are many reasons why everyone’s employers should care about mental health in construction.
You Spend Most of Your Time At Work
Employees spend most of their waking hours at work, not including travel time at work. You see and talk to your coworkers sometimes more often than your family. Because of this, it is easier to know whether someone is doing alright or not. If they’re not doing well, making sure that they are aware of any available resources can be a big help.
Sometimes people’s mental health issues stem from other facets of their life like financial issues, personal issues, and more. Helping them find the right resources is not only the kind thing to do but it benefits the business.
Mental Health Affects Job Site Safety
There are a variety of mental health issues that someone can be facing. However, often times these issues can affect more than just their emotions. These issues can affect the overall safety of a site. If someone is anxious or depressed they can be less likely to notice hazards and other potential issues. Depression alone can cause inflammation which can lead to injuries and can make it hard to focus. These and other issues can make the site unsafe.
What Can Be Done
Now that you know that this is a widespread and deadly issue, what can you do to make the job site? And what should be done to make the industry safer?
Part of the reason why the signs go unnoticed is because of the culture in the construction industry. The culture is a traditionally masculine culture, one where men don’t talk about stuff like this. Physical injuries and physical pain are talked about in construction because it can affect the job site, but mental health isn’t. As uncomfortable as it is to talk about feelings, it’s something that needs to happen in order to improve the statistics and make construction safer for everyone.
A big part of changing the culture is through education. Educated workers help support their coworkers and squash the stigmas around mental health in construction. The best way to go about doing this is to use the resources available to you. The Suicide Prevention Hotline has resources that will save lives. And the Construction Financial Management Association has a web page dedicated to tools and resources to empower not just employers but workers.
Know the Signs
The first thing that can be done on an individual is learning the signs of depression and potential suicide. Knowing some of the warning signs and talking to the person can be helpful in deterring some. Here is a list of some of the signs of mental health issues.
- Increased absenteeism and tardiness
- Decreased productivity from slower cognitive function and distraction
- Decreased self-confidence
- Isolation from peers
- Increased interpersonal conflict
- Increased Overwhelming feelings
- Decreased Problem-solving ability
- Increased likelihood of quitting
Create an Open Dialogue
It’s important to create an open dialogue between coworkers, subordinates, and managers. If everyone feels supported in talking about their mental health, it can inspire and support others to as well. The hard part about mental illness is that it is invisible. So Bob who always brings donuts on Monday might look fine, but he could be struggling. By opening up that dialogue, it can help Bob know that it is okay to not be okay and there are resources to help him get to where he needs to be.
Mental health in construction is a big issue, but it is something that can be fixed. It’s on everyone to recognize the signs, show support, and change the culture around mental health. This Mental Health Awareness month, it’s important to make a stand and try to change the culture around mental health in construction.