We come back to the topic of mental health in the construction industry a lot - and with good reason. Construction is one of the most challenging professions to work in, and it can take a toll both physically and emotionally.

Mental Health in the Trades

According to a study by Construction News, around 400,000 working days are lost each year in the UK over mental health issues. Worse still, construction workers are still taking their own lives at a shocking and tragic 3 times the national average.

Every year from 2011 to 2019 figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that suicides were higher in the skilled trades than in any other sector in England. Mental health is a huge issue in construction and it’s proving difficult to tackle.

The Impact of Covid

Of course, the additional stresses of a global pandemic have only made things more difficult for people already struggling with mental health problems. Research from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) recently estimated that over 1 in 4 construction workers have been dealing with suicidal thoughts during the national lockdown. At the same time, across 500 building trade employers involved in the survey, the report showed that 97% of construction workers have been suffering from stress during the COVID-19 crisis. Key sources of anxiety include worry over returning to work after being on furlough, and very real concerns about maintaining a COVID-safe environment on site.

Since construction’s been one of the main essential industries soldiering on during the pandemic, workers are understandably anxious about catching the virus themselves. More than that, they’re worried about what might happen to their families if they bring the disease home with them. With the UK’s vaccine roll-out going so well, some of those very real fears and pressures are starting to ease. However, stress levels and mental health issues are still extremely high across the industry, and these still need sorting out urgently.

Getting Help and Support

The CITB is working with construction industry charity The Lighthouse Club to get people in the building trade the help and support they need. The Lighthouse Club has a range of projects and resources on offer, from mental health “first aid” courses and training to a helpline and app designed to give desperately needed advice, guidance and practical help to struggling construction workers.

One of the major obstacles you find when trying to ease the mental health crisis in construction is how difficult it is to get the conversation started. The industry still suffers from a culture of toughing it out, which is stopping people from speaking up when they or people close to them are struggling. There’s an attitude of “hard men in hard hats doing hard work” that tends to shut the whole conversation down before it’s even begun. That’s one of the main things that have to change now, because it’s a culture with a heartbreaking bodycount attached to it.

With initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week, there’s a real opportunity to change the way we think about mental health in stressful professions. We need to get out of mentality of suffering in silence, train workers and employers to spot the warning signs sooner and make sure everyone understands that there’s always help available. We need to build stronger safety nets for the whole industry, and cast them wider than ever to stop people falling through.

Construction Work and Mental Healthcare Facilities

It’s honestly amazing what construction can accomplish when it sets mental health concerns as a priority. The Informed Choices certification scheme recently rolled out by BRE and Design in Mental Health Network (DIMHN) is a perfect example of this. The scheme’s about ensuring mental healthcare facilities are safer environments for patients, and streamlining the ways those facilities are built and made available. As DIMHN chair Philip Ross puts it:

“Creating space to allow clinicians to care for those with mental ill health presents a number of challenges for designers and specifiers: the importance of creating a healing environment that supports recovery, whilst coping with behaviours of people who are at their most distressed time... With interest in this scheme from USA and Australia, we believe this initiative can help millions of people at their most vulnerable time.”

The thought and work going into projects like this, and the difference they can make, are immense. Now it’s time for the industry to do just as much to support its own workforce – and that critical conversation starts with projects like Mental Health Awareness Week.

Find out more about the support available from The Lighthouse Club here: https://www.lighthouseclub.org/