Identifying, Preventing & Managing Mental Health Issues in Construction.
With this week being Mental Health Awareness Week, DSA breakdown the significant benefits that awareness and implementing support for workers’ mental health can bring to the construction industry and the built environment.
In the last three years, particularly over the pandemic, there has been a significant shift in awareness and a positive change in attitudes toward mental health in the workplace. The construction industry has been no exception, with the pandemic bringing to light some concerning figures about the mental well-being of workers in varying roles and at all levels.
According to a report published in May 2020 by the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), 87% of workers experienced anxiety, with a massive 97% experiencing stress and 70% experiencing depression. In Britain alone, 1 in 6 individuals will experience some form of mental health condition such as depression or anxiety in any given week.
In understanding these risks and identifying early warning signs, managers can take measures to protect their workforce from potential harm.
Recognising The Risks to Mental Health
Construction workers often face high levels of stress and anxiety due to a variety of factors such as long hours, dangerous working conditions, and financial insecurity due to the changing nature of working hours and duration of projects. Naturally, this can lead to depression symptoms, burnout and other mental health problems.
It is important for employers in the construction industry to be aware of the prevalence of mental health issues among their employees and take steps to address them. This includes providing access to resources such as counselling and stress management programs, as well as creating an environment that is conducive to good mental health.
According to ‘Understanding Mental Health in the Built Environment (May 2020)’, up to a quarter of construction employees had considered suicide between 2011 and 2015, with workers feeling that they were unable to express their struggles properly due to the “Macho” attitudes that traditionally were upheld in the industry. Stress was shown to be a significant factor in the aforementioned report as to the decline of individuals’ mental health.
Just some of the stresses/risk factors outlined in the report are documented below:
- Management styles
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Excessive workload
- Lack of control
- Lack of clarity over job role
- Being over-skilled or under-skilled for a specific job
In addition to this, there were some very industry-specific factors that were shown to play a role in poor mental health, including:
- Limited-term contracts
- Long hours
- Lengthy commutes
- Time away from family
- Pressure to complete work on time and within budget
- The ‘macho’ culture that exists within the industry
- Late payments on work
- Uncertainty over the pipeline of work
By understanding the risk factors, employers can ensure their workers are able to perform at their best while staying healthy both mentally and physically. However, knowing the risk factors is just a facet of understanding and maintaining employee mental health, understanding the warning signs of poor mental health is another.
Identifying the Early Warning Signs of Poor Mental Health
Stress can be a crucial indicator and a gateway to poor mental health. There are different types of stress and these can affect individuals in different ways:
- Physical stress – e.g. late nights, lack of routine, binge drinking.
- Environmental stress – e.g. social isolation, the uncertainty of workload/employment, pressure from work.
- Acute life events – e.g. bereavement, physical illness/accidents.
- Chronic stress – e.g. debt, prolonged misuse of alcohol/drugs, accommodation problems.
Addressing these warning signs in a positive and supportive way is the key to successfully navigating and avoiding a mental health crisis and at the same time creating a good working environment for employees.
As the ‘Understanding Mental Health in the Built Environment’ report points out, not only does the mental health of workers affect the performance of the business but in extreme cases can lead to loss of life through suicide* with male construction workers being 3 times more likely to die by suicide than the national average.
Creating a Safe & Supportive Working Environment
Creating a safe and supportive working environment is essential for any organisation. It is important to ensure that all employees feel safe, respected, and supported in their work. This can be done by promoting mental well-being at work, providing resources for stress relief, and creating an open and inclusive culture.
By creating a supportive working environment, employers can help reduce the risk of stress-related illnesses among construction workers. They should also provide resources to help workers manage their mental health and take steps to raise awareness of mental health-related issues.
Steps workplaces can take in creating a supportive environment for mental health:
- Qualified Mental Health First Aiders.
- Employee Helplines.
- Mental health awareness training.
- Flexible working.
- Creating and implementing policies for mental health and well-being in the workplace.
Additionally, employers can promote an open dialogue between employees so they can discuss issues related to safety and support each other when needed.
The Benefits of Developing Effective Policies & Procedures for Mental Health Management
There are numerous benefits to developing effective policies and procedures for mental health management. Employers can benefit from improved productivity, better morale among employees, reduced absenteeism due to mental illness, and increased engagement in the workplace.
*If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide there are numerous helplines and charities you can call.
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