Mental health needs to be top of the priority list for UK construction companies, says Julie Lock of Mitrefinch
One construction worker takes their own life every day, according to data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), demonstrating the gravity of mental health issues within the construction industry.
The issue of mental health impacts workers in the construction industry across every level of seniority. In fact, one of the largest contributors to mental health issues experienced by construction employees is due to late payments.
A report from the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) and Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) found that 90% of construction bosses have suffered from mental health problems as a result of late payments. This can then have a major impact on an entire workforce, impacting employees, their families and employers alike.
To understand the mental health crisis in the construction industry, this article will discuss why mental health issues are so common in the sector, what signs to look for and what improvements can be made.
What causes poor mental health within the construction industry?
Over 400,000 days of work were lost in 2017-18 because of poor mental health in construction, according to data from the Health & Safety Executive. This demonstrates that not only is the crisis having a significant impact on employees and their families but also on the UK economy as a whole.
Job security is one of the most significant causes of mental health problems within the industry. The nature of construction jobs means that often employees are working on short-term projects and are unsure of when their next job will come. This contributes to significant stressors for labourers, with a lack of uncertainty causing them to worry about how they will pay their next rent instalment or bill.
Unfair payment practices also contribute widely to mental health issues in the industry, where disagreements over quality or difficulties with resources can mean construction workers are left without full pay after finishing a job.
Since payment is often made on the completion of a project, it is easy for clients to withhold or delay payment after the job is completed to improve their own cash flow. This has meant 90% of construction bosses have suffered with mental health issues from late payments.
Signs of mental health concerns: What to look out for?
Dubbed “the silent epidemic”, the mental health crisis in construction is particularly challenging since sufferers are often reluctant to speak out about their experience. For this reason, it is crucial that coworkers and employers remain aware of the signs to look for since there are several different symptoms to spot, depending on the mental health condition in discussion.
Physical signs of mental health issues
The symptoms most easy to detect when it comes to mental health problems are those we can physically see. For employees who experience anxiety or panic disorders, this can manifest itself in panic attacks at work which are spotted with physical signs of shaking, excessive sweating and struggling to breathe.
If you are in the presence of a coworker who is experiencing a panic attack, make sure you try to stay calm and stay with them. They may have medication with them to take in these circumstances so ask them what you can do to help and look out for this. You can also guide them through breathing exercises, asking them to focus on breathing in and out slowly.
Psychological signs of mental health issues
For those mental health problems which do not produce any physical symptoms, they can be much more challenging to spot.
If one of your colleagues is crying a lot, this could be a sign that they are suffering from mental health problems. This could be a private issue or something they do not want to talk about, so make sure you are there for them but also respectful of their privacy if they do not wish to disclose any more.
Behavioural changes can also indicate psychological distress, for example, if a coworker begins to avoid social activities or interaction which they previously would have engaged with, they may be suffering from a mental health problem. You may feel comfortable speaking to your colleague about this, or may instead discuss your worries with a friendly manager or HR team member who can offer more support.
How to improve mental health in construction
Although looking out for your colleagues and employees is a fantastic place to start with tackling the mental health issues in the industry, wider initiatives are required for real change to occur.
Addressing the payment practice issue
As the research shows, unreasonable payment practices are one of the major contributing factors to the mental health crisis in the construction industry. It is imperative for clients of construction companies to adhere to the payment schedule originally discussed, if all targets and deadlines have been met, to avoid placing unnecessary stress on the shoulders of construction managers.
Discussing mental health openly
With the correct company culture, mental health problems can be recognised and prevented more effectively. Employers should work to create a space where their team feels comfortable speaking about their mental health.
This could be through talks, events and a specialised wellbeing programme, giving employees a positive and transparent company culture where they feel able to open up about any struggles they are having. This, in turn, will allow for a real change to occur across the industry, with the support of all parties involved.
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