construction mental health
© Lersan Moomueansri

According to a new study, high levels of stress and a reluctance to seek professional help is leading to increased alcohol consumption, non-prescription drug use, and self-harm among UK construction workers

Early findings from a new study evaluating the mental health of self-employed construction workers and those working in small firms show that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance, and Covid-19 pressures on the supply of materials are significantly raising stress and anxiety levels.

As a male-dominated industry, the construction sector has long been known to contain workers who are reluctant to talk about their mental health. Preliminary survey findings from over 300 respondents suggest that almost a third of workers are now living with elevated levels of anxiety each day.

Construction workers from a range of trades including bricklayers, ground workers, and plasterers, told researchers from Mates in Mind and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) that the continuing stigma of mental illness prevents them from discussing it beyond close friends or family members.

‘A real hidden crisis which threatens the viability of a major sector of the UK economy’

Sarah Casemore, managing director of Mates in Mind said:” We have a real concern that the data shows that sole traders and those working in smaller firms with more severe anxiety were least likely to seek help from most sources.

“This means that too many construction workers every day are going under the radar and are not seeking support from healthcare professionals or mental health charities.

“This represents a real hidden crisis which threatens the viability of a major sector of the UK economy and many of those who work in it”.

The study was funded by a research grant from B&CE Charitable Trust, and is investigating both the extent of mental health problems in the workforce and the extent to which new, more accessible, forms of support and guidance on mental wellbeing can be offered to individuals experiencing distress, depression, or anxiety.

As reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the suicide rate among construction workers is already three times the national average for men, equating to more than two construction workers taking their own life every day.

‘Construction workers are finding it hard to disclose their mental health problems’

Head of HR Research Development at IES, Stephen Bevan also commented: “We have been concerned to find that so many construction workers are finding it hard to disclose their mental health problems and that these are also causing them to lose sleep, develop severe joint pain and exhibit greater irritability with colleagues and even family members.

“We are hoping that our upcoming interviews with some of our participants will shed more light on the types of support which they feel comfortable and confident to use.”

Mates in Mind will be using the insights from this research to shape a series of interventions to educate, inform and support workers whose mental health is causing problems with sickness absence, an increased risk of accidents at work, and, ultimately, the risk of an exodus from the sector.

Self employed workers and sole traders are the most vulnerable

Steve Hails, director of Business Services & HSW at Tideway and chair of the board of trustees of Mates in Mind stated: “This valuable research undertaken by IES, funded by B&CE, confirms what we suspected when Mates in Mind was formed as a charity by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) with the vital support of the British Safety Council.

“Those working for the smaller organisations, sole traders or self-employed – the vast majority of workers in our sector – do not have access to the necessary mental health support to allow them to thrive within our industry.

“The next phase of the research is essential to help us understand what that support should look like and how Mates in Mind can assist with the required improvements.”

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