Mental Health Awareness week is just behind us, and is still a big topic on everyone’s minds; not just those in construction. Those of us in this industry spend an inordinate amount of time looking at safety issues that affect construction site workers, but we are all guilty of falling short in the area of mental and general health and wellbeing on site.
Mental health in construction
Construction site workers are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male, a statistic that shocked us. In fact, it is thought that two construction workers a day take their own life. With over 350,000 people working in this industry at any one time suffering from depression, anxiety or stress, statistically we probably all know and work alongside someone that is suffering in silence. As a highly male populated industry, the stigma of talking about mental health to your workmates is still strongly felt. After all, site workers are tough guys who don’t talk about ‘feelings’, but mental health issues can happen to anyone, at any time, and for a number of reasons. Maybe the pressures of work, family life, a poor work/life balance, or having to work away from home are having a detrimental effect on the man who lays bricks next to you, or the site supervisor who runs a tight ship. They look ok and get their work done, so why would we assume that they have the weight of the world on their shoulders? That’s the thing with mental health though. It’s not a broken leg in a plaster cast or a hernia that has been removed and stitched up with a big dressing on, it’s invisible to all of us, but more prolific than we realise.
How is poor health and wellbeing affecting industry?
Almost 20% of work-related illness in the construction industry is attributable to mental health issues and costs industry as a whole almost £40billion a year. The issue is so serious that the CITB has announced that it has committed to fund the delivery of 13 Mental Health First Aid training Instructor courses that will train 156 construction workers, who in turn will work to train a minimum of 2,500 on-site Mental Health First Aiders by 2020. The reason behind this incentive is to not only improve mental health and wellbeing in construction but to try and further plug the ever-widening skills gap. With an estimated 1600 construction workers lost to the industry each year through mental health issues, and an already unsurpassable skills gap across the industry as a whole, serious measures are needed if our construction industry is to remain as the backbone of British industry.
What can we all do to help?
In September 2016, Mates in Mind was established by the Health in Construction Leadership Groups (HCLG) along with the support of the British Safety Council. The aim of the scheme was to raise awareness of the level of poor mental health in construction. The charity aims to support employers with tackling these issues in their organisations, providing them with the tools they need to address these issues and bring mental health into the spotlight. But there is more that each and every individual can do; be more aware of the people around you, and if you sense that someone has a problem they are bottling up, take five minutes to talk to them. As for your own mental wellbeing, a problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes just saying out loud what is troubling someone can relieve the stress. Someone outside of your own personal situation may be able to give you clarity about how you can deal with your problems, action you can take or knowledge of who you can turn to for the help you need. The only thing stopping you from tackling your own mental health issues is yourself. So in the words of BT’s Beattie, It’s Good To Talk!