Construction has the highest rate of suicides for any industry, as well as the highest rate of alcohol and drug abuse. In fact, the number of suicides make it the number one killer of construction workers, even above OSHA’s Fatal Four. However, mental health continues to hold a stigma in the industry, preventing many workers from getting the help they need. Employers can help by educating their workers, raising awareness, and providing access to tools and resources.
Why is mental health a problem in construction?
There are many reasons why mental health is of particular concern in the construction industry. First of all, the industry is primarily made up of men. Men are known to underreport their mental health issues and are less likely to seek help. This makes them particularly susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, which are often used in an attempt to treat mental health issues.
Second, the industry creates a high stress environment for most workers. With pressure to perform, mandatory overtime, and volatile work hours, workers can feel stressed and like there’s nowhere to turn for help. Continued exposure to stress can cause mental health issues.
Third, the industry and work culture of most businesses rewards toughness. Workers are encouraged to gut it out instead of seeking help. Asking for help is seen as weak and ineffectual.
Finally, there is a stigma around issues of mental health that prevents workers from seeking assistance. Even in this enlightened age, people who seek therapy or other resources for mental health relief are marginalized.
What employers can do
Employers hold the key to destigmatizing mental health in the construction industry. You can do this through education, awareness, looking for signs in workers, and providing access to tools and resources.
One of the best ways to help remove the stigma from mental health issues is to educate workers about them and how they are treated. There are many online training programs that can help workers identify the signs of mental health issues in themselves and others and provide guidance on seeking treatment (such as our Mental Health Awareness in the Workplace course). Employers can host guest speakers or seminars in the workplace to help workers deal with stress and other mental health issues. Use a diverse pool of speakers to help your workers relate to them and see them as positive role models. Include information on positive behaviors that workers can use to counteract the effects of stress in the workplace.
Employers should seek to foster a safe, understanding company culture that seeks to help employees as much as possible. Encourage employees to seek help from professionals when necessary, and to support others as needed. This type of environment will encourage workers to speak up when they have a problem or notice others struggling.
Look for signs
Employees can keep an eye on each other, looking for signs of mental health issues in their own and others’ behavior. Some signs to look for include:
- decreased productivity
- increasing conflicts
- near misses, incidents, or injuries
- decreased problem-solving ability
- increased tardiness and absenteeism
Supervisors should be aware of the signs of mental health distress and how to address these issues in others. Workers can use tools to screen themselves for mental health issues (like www.mhascreening.org). These anonymous resources can help workers find the help they need.
Provide access to tools
Employers can provide information regarding how to seek help for mental health issues. For example, in July 2022 a national hotline will be available for those who are struggling with suicidal tendencies. Dialing 988 will link you with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which has trained mental health staff available for consultation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Each year the month of May is set aside as Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal is to increase familiarity with mental health issues, as well as reduce the stigma related to mental health. Employers can access information to help their efforts, including social media graphics, educational materials, and resources at the Mental Health Awareness Month website.
The theme for 2022’s Mental Health Awareness Month is “Back to Basics.” Many are realizing that after two years of pandemic living, stress, isolation, and uncertainty have taken a toll on their mental well-being. The information provided gives foundational knowledge about mental health and mental health conditions, as well as information about what people can do if they have a mental health concern.
Construction companies and those involved in the industry must work together to address mental health problems within the industry’s workers. They can do this by educating workers about mental health issues, increasing awareness, and providing access to tools and resources to help workers.