Mental health awareness has skyrocketed in recent years. With celebrities, athletes, and public figures bringing this once-hushed topic into our daily lives, many industries are having long-overdue conversations. The construction industry needs to be one of them.
More so than almost any other type of business, the people who make up the construction industry are dangerously susceptible to poor mental health. In fact, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center places construction as the industry with the second-highest rate of suicide, behind only the mining, quarrying, and gas extraction industry. That’s a statistic that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The issue is this: overall mental health in the construction industry can’t improve if the tough conversations don’t come up and leadership doesn’t take action. Let’s take a deeper dive into mental health awareness in the construction industry and what we can do to improve it.
What is mental health?
While it’s one of the most affected industries, construction as a whole doesn’t talk much about mental health—in fact, the topic is often looked down upon. For that reason, folks who spent their whole lives building things might not be overly aware of what mental health truly is.
According to the CDC, mental health is “our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.”
And, here’s a critical distinction: mental health and mental illness are not the same things. These terms are not interchangeable, and someone experiencing poor mental health is not necessarily suffering from a mental illness. This is an aspect of mental health that the construction industry needs to recognize.
Why is mental health in the construction industry so poor?
Before we can take steps to improve the mental health of the people that make up the construction industry, we have to identify what the issues are.
First, understand that stress is a major factor affecting the mental health of the construction industry. Long workdays, delays, employment uncertainty, contract disputes, and the generally physically taxing nature of the industry all wear people down. When you also consider the amount of money on the line for many contracts, the stakes are incredibly high for the industry.
Employees are often afraid to take a sick day or leave early for fear of it affecting their jobs, as well. Rather than stay home when sick, hurt, or suffering from mental health challenges, they come to work out of fear they’ll be fired, scolded, or berated.
We also need to look at the demographics of the industry. Construction is—and has thus far been—male-dominated, with men making up approximately 90 percent of the workforce. As a whole, males are less likely to discuss mental health than women for fear of being seen as weak or unable to cope with their challenges. As a result, they never reach out for mental health guidance, which is evident in the construction industry.
This is also an issue perpetuated through generations. The older generations never discussed mental health or even recognized that it could be an issue. By handing down trade secrets, techniques, and wisdom to the newer generations, they’ve unknowingly transferred this closed-off mindset toward mental health.
With this closed-off mindset comes the inability to recognize the signs of mental health distress or find healthy ways to improve it. Instead, depression, diminished physical health, high blood pressure, substance abuse, and other “accepted” issues plague the industry, many stemming from the taboo surrounding mental health.
5 Ways To Improve Mental Health in the Construction Industry
Thus far, it’s been a very bleak outlook for the construction industry’s mental health. But, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. With a bit of awareness and encouragement, construction doesn’t have to suffer as it always has.
1. Improve Company Culture
Company culture has a lot to do with the stress that its employees feel. A rush-rush, hectic company that ignores accomplishments and harps on mistakes is not a great place for anyone to work, and it will take its toll on mental health.
Instead of that volatile environment, strive to improve company culture:
- Recognize employees for their hard work
- Throw events to show your crew you appreciate them
- Have quarterly seminars with guest speakers and free lunches
- Encourage employees to sign up for training
- Allow employees to use their PTO time responsibly
- Encourage breaks during the day
There are more approaches to take as well. While none of them improve mental health directly, they do create an atmosphere where employees feel valued.
2. Educate Employees
Many of the most affected employees don’t recognize the signs of poor mental health. For that reason, education is critical.
There is employee well-being training that will come to a workplace and educate the employees about mental health. This will inevitably be met with groans and eye-rolling, but with the right trainer, a lot of good things can happen. Holding regularly scheduled training keeps the conversation rolling, and as employees find benefits or takeaways, those training will begin to pay dividends.
3. Give Your Employees the Opportunity for Help
Even when someone recognizes that they aren’t feeling like themselves, they might not know where to turn. An Employee Assistance Program (or EAP for short) gives them that first step. These programs help with not only mental health at work but also the effects everyday life can have on a person.
Also, provide your employees with contact information for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and other similar programs.
4. Make Mental Health Awareness Part of the New Generation
One way to improve your company’s approach to mental health awareness is to sow the seeds early with the new generation. Whenever onboarding a new employee, be sure to discuss your training, sick day policies, and EAP so they know that their well-being matters. Just make certain that you hold up your end of the deal.
While this is certainly a “long game” approach, it’s much like farming for a healthier company. Planting the seeds with this generation will help remove the stigma over time and create a healthier, more accepting work environment where conversations about mental health are more normalized and less taboo.
5. Make Awareness Start at the Top
Construction is a taxing and tolling business, and successful business owners, project managers, foremen, and supervisors have all taken their share of blows. It’s important to understand that for mental health awareness to truly take hold, it needs to start with these leaders.
First, business owners need to believe in something if they expect their employees to follow suit. Attending their own training, reaching out for assistance when their backs are against the wall, and having these difficult conversations are all critical. Only then can the belief trickle down to the managers and supervisors. With management on board, the boots on the ground will have the support they need to take care of themselves and their mental health.
It Takes Awareness
Improving the mental health of the construction industry as a whole requires awareness. Once we’re able to remove the stigma surrounding asking for help, we might be able to lower the rate of suicides, depression, and health conditions while also improving productivity and safety. With the tips outlined in this article, change is within the industry’s reach.
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Check out Premier Construction to see if it fits your company’s strategies and goals. See how we can help your construction company to work smarter. Schedule a demo by contacting us today.Author Biography:
Tom Scalisi has over 15 years of experience working in the trades. Since moving to full-time freelance writing, he has developed a passion for helping construction companies grow. He enjoys teaching contractors how technology can streamline their businesses and educating them about their rights during payment disputes.