Home Mental Health & Well-Being Construction Workers Face Growing Mental Health Crisis, Expert Warns

Construction Workers Face Growing Mental Health Crisis, Expert Warns

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People working in the construction industry are victims of a major crisis in mental health, a leading expert has warned. Author and counsellor Lynn Crilly, who also works in the sector, says far too many men are suffering in silence.

Her comments come during Men’s Mental Health Awareness Week, following a major report highlighting the scale of the problem. 73% of UK builders experience mental health issues like anxiety or depression every month, with 45% exhibiting symptoms every single week, according to research by Ironmongery Direct and Electrical Direct for Mental Health Awareness Week. Additionally, 92% reported not feeling comfortable discussing their mental health with others, and only 10% said they had spoken about their mental health with friends and family.

The study identified the five most common causes of stress for tradespeople: the cost of living crisis (39%), rising cost of materials (36%), finances (28%), tensions with customers (20%), and striving to do the best job possible for customers (17%).

Lynn, who helps run a major scaffolding business in the southeast of England, said: “I have been working in the construction industry now for the last forty years, the first five in a builder’s merchants and the past 35 years running a scaffolding company with my husband. During this time, there have been many changes. But one thing that has not changed is the stigma attached to mental illness amongst its many workers.”

Outlining the scale of the crisis, Lynn, who penned Hope With Depression, continued: “I believe mental health remains the biggest health and safety crisis within today’s construction industry and shows little or no signs of abating. According to recent studies, more than fifty percent of construction workers have struggled with their mental health. These figures alone are proof that so much more needs to be done to educate and raise awareness of these issues.”

Addressing the specific challenges those working in building face, she said: “Like any job in today’s fast-paced world, construction work comes with its own set of challenges, stress, and pressures. Although these seem to be particularly more difficult and harder to manage than years before, because of this, they, they are having a greater impact than before. The rising cost of materials, the cost of living crisis, the long working hours, and erratic weather conditions leading to unforeseen delays, are among some of the everyday challenges. It is no wonder construction can be a particularly stressful working environment.

“We cannot wave a magic wand to combat dealing with this aspect of health and safety, and there is no mental health PPE that can protect them from their demons. This is an industry mainly made up of male employees, who work in an environment where they feel they have to wear a ‘macho’ mask. Many therefore keep their head down and ‘get on with it’. Finding and promoting effective ways to encourage construction workers to seek help and know that ‘it is okay’ to open up and talk about how they feel is not always easy.”

Pinpointing one area where people can find help, Lynn added: “There are many online and in-person support groups around the country including Andy’s Man Club, which welcomes many new members every week. They run in-person meetings every Monday at 7pm all over the country and are growing every week, which shows the need for more support for all men and their mental health.”

The group was born in mid-2016, when nine men met in a small room in the Yorkshire town of Halifax with the simple aim of talking through their issues and helping each other deal with their mental health. All in attendance agreed there was magic in the room that had to be shared. It was the start of a movement that has grown faster than anyone first involved could have ever imagined. Fast forward seven years and Andy’s Man Club now has groups at over 150 locations across the UK. The club takes its name from Andrew Roberts, a man who sadly took his own life at age 23 in early 2016. Andy’s family had no inkling that he was suffering or struggling to the extent that he would do this, and as a result, they looked deeper into male suicide and men’s mental health. They soon discovered that male suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 50 in the UK, where the stigma surrounding male mental health is deeply ingrained. The movement continues to expand week after week, with over 3000 men using the service on a weekly basis and an army of over 900 facilitators.

Lynn said: “Talking about mental health helps to improve our communities and society, making it more acceptable for those suffering from a mental illness to come forward and ask for help without fear of judgement. But in doing so, we must also remember that mental health is not only about mental illness. It is also about maintaining a positive and healthy state of mind. Starting a conversation can often be the biggest hurdle.”

Lynn highlighted important areas to bear in mind when initiating a conversation about mental illness:

  • Time. Make sure you have time to follow through on your conversation without interruption.
  • Ask twice. When asked, “How are you?” we often say “good” even when we are not, so remember to ask again, “Are you really OK?” This second time may encourage them to be more open and honest about how they really feel.
  • Be kind. Kindness is free and is the most priceless gift you can give to yourself and to others. Do not compare or judge, and if you have concerns or are worried about someone, encourage them to go to a health professional.
  • Listen. Listening without judgement or advice can often be what the person needs just to be heard. Letting the person say what is on their mind in a safe and supportive environment can often be the start of them getting the right help.
  • Be honest. Being open and honest about your own mental health experiences can help reduce the stigma and encourage the person to open up about theirs. You do not have to have the solution or the answers but just by listening and knowing you are there can be enough.

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