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The Construction Industry Needs to Address Its Mental Health Problem

The Construction Industry Needs to Address Its Mental Health Problem

Mental health in construction is a growing problem, and one which requires immediate attention in 2021.

Construction is one of Australia’s most important industries, producing around 9% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product and generating over $360 billion in revenue.

However, the veins of the construction industry run deeper than the economy.

The homes we live in, buildings we work in and schools which our children attend are all products of the workers who bring these projects to life with dedication and craftsmanship.

However, for the 625,000 Australians working in construction, mental health issues are significantly more common than the national average.

A recent study by PwC showed that:

  1. – 21% of construction workers were shown to have had a mental health condition
  2. – Construction workers are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than the average Australian.

Across Australia, we lose a construction worker to suicide every second day, totalling more than 190 per year. In Queensland alone, we lose 45 construction workers to suicide every year.

These sobering statistics make it clear that mental health in construction is an area which needs to be addressed urgently.

In 2021, it is time for organisations and workers at all levels of the construction industry to pull together and create an environment where people feel safe to speak out and receive the support they need.

Mental Health in Construction: The Problem

In recent years, people have become increasingly aware of the devastating impact that mental health issues can have on individuals, families, and the broader community. The construction industry has felt this impact deeply, with many workers knowing colleagues who have passed away from suicide.

It’s no secret that you have to work hard in this industry. Long hours, mental and physical exertion and strict time pressures are all part and parcel of being a construction worker.

A study about mental health in the construction industry found that:

“The construction industry is particularly vulnerable to mental health issues, as the environment contains many occupational stressors such as: high production pressures, dangerous work, complex decision-making and ‘not feeling tough enough’, all of which can contribute to poor mental health.”

Charity Mates in Construction are dedicated to reducing the high level of suicide among construction workers, and have identified a key barrier to improving mental health outcomes:

“Workers find it difficult to discuss feelings and emotions with colleagues at work, and the nature of the work has made social support more difficult. ‘Pride’ is identified as an issue: male workers have a problem with not being viewed as ‘manly’… and believe that suicide is an impulsive act and that someone intending to take their own life would show no signs and not discuss it.”

This difficulty in speaking out and asking for support is particularly prevalent among men, who are at the greatest risk of suicide, yet are sadly the least likely to seek help. 

The reality, however, is that people intending to take their own life usually do show warning signs of suicide, and that a well-timed conversation can often be the difference between life and death.

By creating supportive work environments, we can make it easier for people to open up about their mental health and access resources and support which could save lives.

Working Together To Make Change

With the industry having made the physical safety of workers a priority, fatal injuries on construction sites are now at an all time low. While this is a fantastic result, the construction industry must begin to put an equal focus on the mental health of their workers.

Organisations like Mates, HALT and TradeMutt are leading the way when it comes to making workplace cultures more supportive for workers.

With Mates identifying that “workers find it difficult to discuss feelings and emotions with colleagues at work”, they provide a blueprint for change which includes:

  1. – Promoting early intervention for workers going through a tough time
  2. – Providing training and resources to encourage mental health awareness & the development of suicide prevention skills
  3. – Developing policies and plans that support employees to stay, or return, to work if they are experiencing mental health challenges

This focus on spreading awareness about mental health in construction and educating construction workers is an excellent way to help people access support early on. It also helps create a culture where workers feel that they can reach out and speak to trusted mates about struggles they may be experiencing.

Training can also provide workers with the skills to identify a workmate who may be struggling and speak to them in a non-judgemental and supportive way. 

Preventative measures like these can save lives, and are particularly effective at finding ways to support people who may feel unable to ask for help.

Supporting Our Mates

Any construction project is a team effort, where communication, teamwork and ingenuity are all required to get the job done.

We work long hours with our colleagues, and rely on each other to get projects done safely and successfully. A healthy team is a happy and productive team, so we all should actively work to create environments on and off site where everyone is supported and encouraged.

If you suspect someone might be suffering mental health issues, speak to them and hear what they have to say. Your conversation might save a life.

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, there are a variety of resources and helplines available. You also can reach out to trusted friends, family or colleagues, and let them know that you are struggling. Sometimes we all need support, and there is no shame in turning to those close to us for help. You would do the same for a friend.

If you feel alone, or are experiencing a crisis, there is always someone who will listen. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, TIACS on 0488 846 988 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.