Mental health is often dubbed the ‘silent epidemic’, but the construction industry has taken great steps in recent years in not only raising awareness but effectively tackling the issue. Let’s take a look at what’s being done in the area.

What is mental health?

Mental health can be a tricky term to define. It is your emotional wellbeing, and we all have a mental health – whether it is good, bad or in the middle. Simply put, your mental health is the way you feel on a particular day. Generally, we all have good days and bad days – but somebody with a mental health problem will have more bad than good.

Mental health issues are common - around one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year.

The cause for decline in mental health varies per person, but the main triggers include stress, exhaustion, personal trauma, genetics and a family history of poor mental health. Poor mental health impacts our lives in many ways including how we interact with others, how we handle upsetting and stressful situations, productivity and our ability to make good choices.

Mental health in construction

Ensuring the physical health of workers has long been a priority for the industry, and mental health is just as important. Construction has taken great steps in tackling the issue, breaking down stereotypes and reducing the stigma to encourage those within the industry to be more open about mental health.

In Construction News’s Mind Matters survey from 2019, it found that 68% of construction workers felt their employer would be supportive if they discussed a mental health problem – up from 27% in 2017. In 2019, 73% believed mental health awareness had improved in the past 12 months – up from 33% in 2017.

There is still more to be done: the stigma surrounding mental health has decreased over the past few years, but it remains the biggest barrier to openness.

CITB’s recent mental health and wellbeing research found that despite recent improvements, there’s still some way to go. Suicide kills more construction workers than falls from height, and many work while invisibly suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. Mental health is high on the industry’s agenda, though, with a real desire for change in construction. There are many projects and initiatives in place to support those who need it which are leading the way for others to follow.

How construction is tackling mental health

The industry has taken many positive steps to address mental health, and the Covid pandemic makes them more important than ever.

There are now thousands of fully trained Mental Health First Aiders on site in the industry. These are regular construction workers, from apprentice to director level, trained in how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis.

The building merchants firm Jewson have partnered with SIX Mental Health Solutions (SIX MHS), providing employees with a range of services designed to improve their wellbeing and foster positive mental health. These include access to a national network of counsellors, a series of educational seminars, residential treatment for those who suffer with addictive disorders and a 24/7 confidential helpline.

The Supply Chain Sustainability School’s Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Programme offers a suite of wellbeing toolbox talks and resources for employers. This helps companies instil mental health and wellbeing procedures at the heart of their HR and recruitment processes.

Forterra, a building supplies manufacturer, have piloted a ‘starting the conversation’ scheme for managers. This is designed to give managers the tools to be able to recognise when an employee may need help, and start an open conversation to guide the person to the appropriate services.

Resources, campaigns and initiatives

Let’s take a look at some of the campaigns, initiatives and resources currently happening in construction, and how you can get involved.

  • The Lighthouse Club, a construction industry charity, has launched a free mental health app. It provides information, guidance, advice and signposting resources on many wellbeing topics including stress, anxiety, depression, anger and suicidal thoughts. This goes alongside their 24/7 industry helpline and access to emergency financial aid.
  • Mates in Mind raise awareness, address the stigma of poor mental health and promote positive mental wellbeing in the workplace by offering training to construction employers and providing resources for employees. This includes their Stress Awareness Month campaign.
  • Time to Change run the Ask Twice campaign. We all tend to say we’re feeling ok even when we may not be. Encouraging people to say a second ‘how are you?’ to a friend or colleague is a simple but effective way to encourage open conversations.
  • Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event with a different theme each year – in 2021 it was nature. It is designed to raise awareness of mental health concerns and inspire action to help promote good mental health for all.

Get involved

The Lighthouse Club run the Building Mental Health initiative to help the industry embrace a positive mental health agenda – and they are looking for volunteers to help promote this throughout construction.

You can find out more about how construction has placed fairness, inclusion and respect at the heart of the industry.

If you, or anyone you know, needs financial or wellbeing support you can call the free 24/7 confidential Construction Industry Helpline on 0345 605 1956.

Samaritans offers a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. The charity won’t judge you or tell you what to do, but will listen to you. Whatever you’re going through, call free any time, from any phone, on 116 123.