Why we need to be more open about mental health in construction

Why we need to be more open about mental health in construction

Everyday life is stressful enough with family pressures, relationships and just the busy pace of modern living.  Additionally people in construction face other issues that can negatively affect their mental health, for example:

  • Challenging workloads
  • Long working hours
  • A lot of travel
  • Family separation
  • Unsociable working hours
  • Job insecurity
  • Financial and budgeting pressures
  • Tight deadlines
  • High risk activities

Although these issues are not exclusive to the construction industry, mental health in construction is often stigmatised as a “taboo” subject so people “put on a brave face” and keep their feelings and thoughts bottled up which is almost certain to make the situation worse.

How big is the problem?

  • It is now recognised that 1 in 4 people will suffer from some sort of mental health issue. This can range from mild anxiety or depression to serious illness that could lead to suicide without help and support
  • It is estimated that the number of deaths from suicide in the construction industry could be 10 times higher than those from fatal accidents at work
  • A CIOB survey last year found 68.2 per cent of respondents had suffered from stress, anxiety or depression as a direct result of working in the construction industry

A Ucatt survey found that of people who had suffered from mental illness, 44 per cent had time off due to mental health issues but 75 per cent had not raised their problems with management.

What can we do about it?

We all need better awareness, to ensure that:

  • We can spot the signs that something is wrong
  • Have a positive attitude, and assist people in need of help or support
  • Encourage an atmosphere where people feel able to confide in others about their feelings and the problems they might be facing
  • Spotting the signs in others
  • Low mood, sadness, irritability, anger, mood swings
  • Over-reacting, acting on impulse, change in relationship with others such as withdrawal
  • Stooped posture, sweaty palms, weight loss or gain
  • Loss of concentration, lack of sleep, loss or increase of appetite, using drugs, excessive alcohol consumption

These are just some signs, everyone is different and some more severe mental health illnesses will have more complex and difficult to spot symptoms. However, if you are able to spot these early symptoms of depression and anxiety you may be able to offer friendly support to someone who really needs it.

Have a positive attitude, and help people in need of help or support

It can take a bit of courage for someone to open up to you and tell you about what is bothering them. This person is trusting you, they may just need someone to talk to. There is quite a bit of truth in the old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved”. It may make you feel uncomfortable at first and that is quite normal, but try to listen without being judgemental.

Sometimes a little humour can help a situation but it is important that the person doesn’t feel they are being dismissed, ridiculed or not taken seriously. If you think all may not be well with a work colleague, let them know you have noticed they don’t seem themselves and tell them they can talk to you about their concerns. This can provide some valuable support. If they don’t want to talk though, keep an eye on them, try again another time if that seems right or if you have serious concerns voice this to a manager in confidence.

Julie Bradley

Julie is an HR director at Interserve.

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