Doka UK 17 May 2019.- The UK construction industry is showing continuing signs of development. Construction output is increasing, albeit slowly, new contracts awarded and new jobs are emerging in some sectors. As the construction industry continues to grow, numbers of employees working in the industry will need to increase at the same time. With new entrants expected to enter the construction industry, there has never been a better time to focus on the topic of mental health. With Mental Health Awareness Week taking place this week (13 to 19 May), this gives us an opportunity to help raise awareness of mental health, in particular, mental health in the construction sector. In this article, we extract a breakdown of analyses from various sources including Building Products Online, Work in Mind Online, The Health and Safety Executive, amongst others.
A report on mental health (annual report of the Chief Medical Officer, 2018) has found that in the UK as a whole, mental health issues lead to over 70 million sick days per year. Whether it’s anxiety, depression or stress, mental health causes more sick days than any other health condition and costs our economy between £70 billion and £100 billion each year.
However, struggles with mental health can have much more serious ramifications. Data from the Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, the highest number of suicides were found in skilled construction workers. With over 1400 in-work suicides, this sector makes up over 13% of those recorded, despite construction only accounting for 7% of the UK workforce. Construction News created a survey along with Mind Matters to identify any changes to mental health in construction between 2017-2018. Although 67% of respondents believe awareness has improved over this period, the results show no real improvement to mental health in the industry and that 81% believe there is still a stigma.
While mental health issues can affect anyone, men are particularly vulnerable. 76% of recorded suicides in the UK are committed by men, with suicide being the biggest cause of death in men under 35.
And with men making up the majority of the workforce, this is a particularly problematic issue for the construction industry.
The working lifestyle of a construction worker can take its toll. Workers will often work long, demanding hours and can spend their days away from home for weeks at a time. Without a private, safe space to unwind, all the stresses of work add up and make it difficult to switch off.
The working environment, where speaking about emotional or mental issues has historically been stigmatised, is also to blame, as the ‘macho’ image of construction workers makes it difficult to talk about mental health.
Thankfully, there are a number of positive initiatives employers can take, as well as registered charities and support groups dedicated to the wellbeing of construction workers.
As referenced in Work in Mind Online, some 20% of all cases of ill health in the construction sector are due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety, says the Health and Safety Executive. As a consequence, over 400,000 work days are lost each year.
In all cases, providing support for employees who might have concerns about their mental health is a crucial move. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma attached to these issues, so not everybody will feel comfortable raising them, especially in a work environment.
But knowing there’s a safe place to turn to for help can be a huge comfort to many construction workers and, adopted industry-wide, this measure may even save lives.
What are the signs?
Unlike physical injuries, mental health issues are difficult to spot and are often kept secret. Building Products Online state a few common telltale signs when someone is struggling with their mental health:
- They find it difficult to problem-solve.
- They are easily distracted and are less productive than usual.
- They lack self-confidence.
- They are easily agitated and create conflict amongst co-workers.
- They feel easily overwhelmed.
- They are increasingly late or absent from work.
- They often isolate themselves from others.
What can employers do?
One of the best ways for the construction industry to tackle the importance of employee mental health is from the top. Business owners and management need to implement the same safety standards they take towards physical health and safety and use them to safeguard mental health.
There are a number of steps that managers can take to create a positive work environment for their staff so that mental health can be comfortably addressed, rather than hidden away:
- Educate employees
By making education a priority, employers can help to remove the stigma of mental health and ensure their staff understand the negative impacts that can affect anyone. This can range from providing easily accessible information for your staff to hiring third-party organisations to come in for regular staff training days.
With a team of knowledgeable employees, a company will find it easier to combat any dangers and empower their staff to support each other when facing difficulties with their mental health. Improving awareness creates more opportunities to spot early signs of co-workers struggling and creates an overall healthier workplace environment.
- Be open and available
Mental health is a private matter to many people, which makes it difficult to speak about openly. Without establishing a clear and open line of communication, it’s much more likely that workers will keep their troubles to themselves. By letting employees know that they always have someone to talk to, they are much more likely to come out of their shell and identify any health problems like anxiety or depression early enough to put in place counteractive measures.
- 3. Be vigilant
Tackling mental health takes a lot more than running a one-off seminar. Many mental health issues take time to be resolved, which means companies need to be aware of their staff’s needs all year round.
By continuing to offer training, guidance and support to their employees, mental health care will be embedded into a company’s culture and will become a natural part of its safety protocol – not just ticking a box on a form.
- Put a support system in place
Spotting the early signs is important, yet employers also need to ensure they create a safety net for their staff. Companies need to make sure that helpful information is readily available for employees so that anyone struggling with their mental health knows where to turn to receive support through services like counselling and therapy.
As of January 2017, the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) established Mates in Mind, its own registered charity whose sole purpose is to raise awareness and provide support for the mental wellbeing of construction workers.
Mates in Mind have a goal to reach 75% of the construction industry by 2025 and offer training courses based on four key elements: Awareness & Education, Guidance & Support, Communication and Research & Development.
For confidential support or advice there are also a number of other options available to help find somebody to speak with:
- Construction Industry Helpline 0345 605 1956 – Provided by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, the helpline advises on a range of matters including occupational health and wellbeing, support and advice for people with stress The services can also provide emergency financial aid to the construction community in times of crisis.
- Mind 0300 123 393 – Provides advice and support to anyone experiencing mental health concerns.
- Samaritans 116 123 – Confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.