The economic recovery is concealing a growing mental health epidemic among construction SMEs, according to a new online survey by YouGov
The survey, which was commissioned by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), during Mental Health Awareness month, showed that extreme responses, such as suicidal thoughts, depression, and panic attacks, in construction SMEs are now 6% higher than in sectors experiencing a slower economic recovery.
Despite an upbeat forecast for growth across the UK economy this year and a rapid recovery for construction and its related sectors, firms are continuing to report serious conditions amongst workers, including panic attacks, insomnia, and depression.
Employees in construction SMEs are more than twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts as people employed in other sectors.
Displays of extreme anger resulting from late payment are also 50% more likely in SME construction firms, than in businesses of a similar size in other industries, according to the survey.
Reaching crisis point
Rather than improving the situation, the speed of the sector’s recovery seems to have added to the stress experienced by many construction SMEs and the perennial problem of late payment is the main culprit.
More than a third of SMEs in construction, who responded to the survey, reported chronic mental health conditions in their workforce. Poor mental health increase physical health and safety risks putting even more lives in danger.
Many constructions sites remained open during the pandemic, in particular smaller sites where social distancing was easier. Construction workers were, therefore, less affected by mental health triggers such as isolation, but the YouGov research still showed that mental health in the industry was at a “crisis point”.
A further worrying finding showed that construction workers were more than twice as likely to have a harmful response to restlessness as a result of furlough, by misusing drugs or alcohol, than those in other sectors.
Larger construction firms are taking steps to address the problem by introducing ‘Mental Health First Aid’ courses, for example, but cash flow issues mean that smaller firms lack the financial stability to be able to provide the right level of support to staff, according to the trade associations.