An industry survey conducted by Construction News revealed that a quarter of all construction workers have considered suicide and over half have experienced mental health problems.
These figures are significantly above the national average and demand our close attention, as they indicate that the stresses of working in an industry with high customer demands, low margins, ever-shrinking schedules and increasing distrust between contractual parties are taking their toll on the wellbeing of workforces across the board.
Pressure to reduce costs and speed up delivery is passed from client, to project manager, to contractor to subcontractor and can lead to projects being understaffed and rushed to the detriment of workforce health and safety. Increased frequency of claims and contractual disputes in the industry is another potential cause of psychological pressure for contractors and subcontractors, who may become hyper-vigilant against putting a foot wrong. Add to this a near-constant pressure around payment and cash flow and we have the potential for a perfect storm of psychological distress.
So what might employers look out for to identify and support workers who could be struggling with their mental health? Knowing what to look out for might give you a chance to start a conversation early with someone who is struggling, or to notice when you yourself might need to ask for some extra support in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive provides a useful list of some of the signs which might indicate an individual is suffering from stress or mental health challenges like anxiety and depression, including:
Feeling negative, depressed or disappointed with yourself
Emotionally reactive – becoming more sensitive, aggressive or tearful, having mood swings
Showing signs of loneliness and withdrawal from others
Losing motivation or confidence in your work
Acting confused, struggling to make decisions or being unusually twitchy and nervous
Having difficulty to focus on tasks and remember things
Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual
Changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
Changes in attendance such as arriving late or taking more time off
If you think you or a colleague may be struggling with mental health issues or feeling overwhelmed by stress, there are several people out there waiting to provide you with free, confidential listening, support and guidance. Here are a few numbers you can call now:
The Samaritans – 116 123 – confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.
Mind – 0300 123 3393 – provides advice and support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem
Construction Industry Helpline – 0345 605 1956 – managed and funded by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity
If your symptoms are made worse or triggered by some aspect of your work, the benefits of taking action early by speaking with a line manager, HR department or trade union representative cannot be underestimated. They may well be able to quickly take action to ease your situation and prevent it from becoming worse, but only if you tell them what is happening.
To find out more about identifying and managing mental health problems at work, check out the HSE advice and guidelines.