The conversation surrounding mental health issues within the construction industry is undeniably lacking considering the high rate of suicide for construction workers. Work related depression, anxiety, and high levels of stress are quickly becoming a greater risk than physical injury on construction sites.
Why is the construction industry at a higher risk?
Statistics Canada reports that men in the 45-59 age category are at greatest risk for suicide, with the rate being three times higher for men than for women. This is a likely explanation for the higher mental health risks in the construction industry since it is a male-dominated industry with workers falling between the ages of 25-55. Not to mention that males are more likely to attempt to hide any mental health issues they are dealing with and typically avoid the conversation of mental health overall.
The constant pressure to maintain a macho image and the negative stigma towards men seeking support for mental health leads many workers to suffer in silence. When it comes to seeking help, workers are concerned about it affecting social acceptance, professional development, and promotions. The industry has also been described as “feast or famine”, meaning that when you have work, you are likely working long hours because you might be worried about when the next job will come causing a lot of stress for construction business owners. Another reason could be that many construction contracts require workers to be away from family for long periods of time, worsening loneliness and other mental health symptoms. The construction industry has also been known to have a high rate of substance abuse, which is typically associated with mental health issues and suicide.
How can construction companies do their part?
Industry leaders need to recognize the reality of mental illness, address the stigma that exists in the industry and open up the conversation of mental health between employers and colleagues. This is an extremely important step for the construction sector, because the topic of mental health has been neglected in comparison to other health and safety risks within the industry. Construction companies should look at providing resources to their employees to help them engage in the conversation of mental health, including forms of therapy and mental well-being programs.
Employers and colleagues also need to keep an eye out for key signs and indicators of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, stress, etc. Some things to keep an eye out for include:
- Increased number of incidents of injury
- Tardiness or absenteeism
- Increased number of sick days or medical leaves
- Lack of productivity (i.e. showing up to work but not functioning effectively)
- Increased conflicts with coworkers
- Long-lasting sadness or irritability
- Extremely high or low moods
- Social withdrawal or decreased self-confidence
If employers are unsure about how to deal with mental health concerns being brought forward, the Mental Health Commission of Canada discusses the five R’s of mental health in the workplace. The five R’s include Recognizing Risk, Resilience, Recovery, Return to Work, and Removing the Stigma. Employers can follow this framework to ensure they are properly supporting their workers who may be dealing with mental health issues and allow them to feel comfortable starting these difficult conversations. As Cheryl Richardson says, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard”.
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
Find a Crisis Centre Near You: Crisis Services Canada: Local Resources & Support