Why construction must embrace workplace mental health support

The construction sector has a big mental health problem. How can it and other male-dominated sectors support people with their mental health problems better?

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In England, one in six people will experience depression or anxiety in any given week. In recent years, a growing movement in favour of the destigmatisation of these issues has encouraged more open attitudes towards mental health, making it easier for people to discuss their problems.

Whilst this process has been undeniably helpful in legitimising the concerns of those suffering with mental health, there’s still a long way to go, particularly in male-dominated fields such as the construction sector. Employers’ past failures to provide adequate mental health support, coupled with a continuing culture of machismo, means that the construction sector has historically lagged behind when it comes to addressing mental health issues.

However, a growing number of construction companies are adopting mental health policies, beginning to foster a more open, conversational culture and training Mental Health First Aiders to provide additional support.

Key Findings

● Two people working in construction in the UK die by suicide every day; over 700 lives are lost each year.
● UK charity Mates in Mind found that over two-thirds of construction workers believe there is a stigma surrounding mental health that prevents them from talking about their issues with colleagues.
● A survey from the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) found that 97% of construction industry professionals suffer from stress at some point during their working life.
● According to the Faculty of Public Health, economic crises increase the risk factors for poor mental health, such as low household income, financial difficulties and job insecurity.

Why is mental health more important now than ever?

The construction industry is not unique in that the mental health of those working within it was negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey from Mind found that those who had struggled with their mental health before the pandemic were more likely to have been negatively affected throughout 2020 and 2021.

It is, however, experiencing its own acute crisis. A CIOB survey found that, during 2020, increased numbers of construction workers were dealing with mental health issues; 87% of respondents to their survey had experienced anxiety, 70% had experienced depression and 97% had experienced stress.

While a winter spike in COVID-19 in cases seems likely, there are a number of other socio-economic issues that may be having a negative effect on people’s mental health.

Uncontrollable matters such as uncertainty regarding the war in Ukraine, the ever-rising cost of living and the UK’s imminent recession could be triggering personal mental health crises. According to the Faculty of Public Health, economic crises increase the risk factors for mental health issues, which can include low household income, debt, financial difficulties, poor housing and job insecurity.

Given that the recession and increasing costs of materials could hinder the viability of both large and small-scale construction projects, people working within the industry may have legitimate concerns about their job security. It is therefore hugely important that workers in the sector have proper access to the relevant support.

Why are mental health matters so important in the construction industry?

Mental health issues can affect anyone, irrespective of demographics or employment. However, UK-based charity Mates in Mind found that over two-thirds of construction workers believe there is a stigma surrounding mental health that prevents them from talking about their issues. Given that construction is a largely male-dominated sector – with 82% of all UK construction workers identifying as male – it’s hugely important that communicative barriers are broken down.

With dated masculine ideals and machoism still sadly enduring in the sector, there is little surprise that suicide rates are higher amongst men working in this industry; men working in construction are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, with two construction workers dying every day from suicide. Modern companies must therefore make an effort to change this culture by providing proper outlets for mental health discussions, and fostering an environment in which employees feel empowered to speak up.

What support should be available to people working in the construction industry?

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England exists to provide support to workplaces in a vast range of industries through adapted training and new resources. Striving to train one in 10 people in mental health awareness and skills, the organisation’s aim is to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, and cultivate a culture in which speaking freely about your mental health is accepted.

Through the Mental Health First Aider course, members of a company or organisation can learn how to better listen, reassure and respond to people dealing with a crisis. In the male-dominated construction sector, where speaking freely about mental health can be an obstacle, it is more important than ever that colleagues are attuned to their peers’ feelings.

If an employee still finds it difficult to talk openly with the support offered above, Wellness Action Plans like these from Mind can be a helpful alternative. This can help employers understand their staff’s needs and concerns in events where traditional verbal conversation may feel impossible.

There are many ways in which companies in this sector can help foster a more open culture. One company which is doing so is commercial painting specialist Bagnalls. It offers an Employee Assistance Programme, which is available to access all day, every day. Bagnalls is also expanding the number of Mental Health First Aiders in the company, making it easier for members of the team to get access to the proper support.

By forging a partnership with Andy’s Man Club, who addressed the entire workforce on the importance of speaking up about mental health issues, Bagnalls has begun to make the necessary changes to increase openness in the workplace.

How can businesses in the construction sector benefit from implementing mental health support?

Stress, anxiety and depression account for one-fifth of all work-related illnesses, resulting in 70 million annual sick days across the industry. The related cost of these sick days is an estimated £70-100 billion. By providing adequate mental health support, employers can help create a safe space for employees, minimising the amount of missed days.

Not only this, but addressing mental wellbeing in the workplace could help increase productivity by as much as 12%, and help employees to feel more valued than ever. Whilst it may not always be possible to change how employees feel, it is always helpful to let them know that a support framework is in place should they feel ready to talk.

Joanne Gualda, Marketing Director at Bagnalls, comments: “Providing proper mental health support should be a requirement for businesses in any sector, but companies working in construction have a particular responsibility. By partnering with Andy’s Man Club and training our staff members to become Mental Health First Aiders, we hope to raise awareness and reduce the high suicide rate amongst people working in the construction industry.”


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