Mental health issues permeate all industries and walks of life. However, the UK’s construction sector faces particular challenges that take an extraordinary toll on workers.
Shocking statistics bring this crisis into focus. Over 700 construction workers in the UK die by suicide every year – equivalent to two deaths every working day. A quarter of the industry has grappled with suicidal thoughts. Anxiety rates are sky-high, with almost a third feeling severely anxious daily.
Clearly mental health in construction requires far greater attention. But the stigma surrounding mental health persists in this male-dominated sector. Most don’t feel comfortable opening up about their struggles. This not only prevents people from accessing much-needed support. It also hinders companies from assisting staff and addressing systemic factors behind poor mental wellbeing.
Whether overt or subtly ‘silent’, discrimination has no place here. Construction leaders must set the tone and lead the charge to foster a culture where people feel safe discussing mental health.
How can the industry step up?
For starters, concrete policies and training to promote mental health awareness and understanding are crucial. Appoint designated mental health first aiders so staff have someone trustworthy and approachable to turn to in times of crisis. Schedule regular check-ins between management and employees to enable a safe space for open conversations.
But most importantly, talk about this issue, with empathy and compassion. Workers need to know without doubt that support is available if they’re struggling, with no judgement attached. Leadership must role model openness and vulnerability around mental health to help break down outdated cultural stigma.
Providing information on mental health charities and resources is also vital so those battling silently know where to turn. Here are some excellent UK-based organisations providing free, confidential mental health support:
- Construction Industry Helpline – 24/7 assistance line covering financial, legal, mental wellbeing support
- Mates in Mind – Developing workplace mental health awareness in construction
- Samaritans – Confidential 24/7 emotional support helpline
- Shout – Crisis text support service
- Andy’s Man Club – Men’s suicide prevention peer support groups
Share such mental health charity details widely so workers understand what’s available. Ensure leaflets, wallet cards with helplines and online information are readily accessible. Talk about these services so employees know that tangible help exists.
Long term, normalising open conversations around mental health is key. Promote ongoing peer discussions and reinforce learnings from training. Make psychological wellbeing a priority in policies and procedures so support becomes embedded in the company culture.
Stigma and discrimination
Mental health discrimination remains a barrier. Whether overt, subtle, silent or accidental, it’s never acceptable. Yet outdated attitudes persist, affecting recruitment, promotion and termination decisions.
Myths around unreliable performance or low capability due to mental health conditions also linger. Train managers to handle related discussions appropriately, outlining legal protections. Ensure teams understand mental health is often not visually obvious, requiring compassion.
Workers facing discrimination have options. Keep thorough records then consult HR, managers or mental health first aiders. Seek legal advice if issues escalate. But the onus lies with construction leaders to be proactive role models in addressing stigma through cultural and systemic change.
The road ahead
Every life lost to suicide is an unspeakable tragedy with vast ripple effects across communities. Yet each small step made towards acceptance, support and assistance can make a profound difference to those battling behind the scenes. There is always hope.
With strong leadership, the UK construction industry can transition towards a culture where mental health is openly discussed and supported without shame or blame. But it requires buying-in at all levels to eradicate harmful stigma. People must know they have somewhere to turn, someone to listen, and resources to draw on when times get tough.
The mental health crisis in construction is real. Only through collective action can we spark much-needed positive change for the wellbeing of this vital UK industry and its dedicated workers under strain.