According to the most recent ONS data, construction is the industry with the highest rate of suicide. In 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives – the equivalent of two workers every day. It also has a suicide rate three times higher than the national average for a male worker.
Construction workers are also more likely to experience anxiety at work, with a third suffering from elevated levels of anxiety every day and over two-thirds believing that there is a stigma surrounding mental health which stops them from talking about it.
As World Suicide Prevention Day approaches on the 10th of September, leading experts for workplace health, safety and well-being, Phoenix Health & Safety, discuss how businesses can build a robust and open culture where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health freely.
Nick Higginson, CEO at Phoenix Health & Safety, states: “One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. Mental health issues can take over 7.5 times longer to recover from than physical illnesses, which paints a very clear picture of the importance of prioritising the mental wellbeing of your colleagues.”
Demanding labour, long hours, and high-risk environments can present unique mental health challenges. If you are a manager or worker in construction, Nick shares the warning signs you can look out for so that it is easier to recognise if a colleague may be struggling.
Changes in behaviour
Changes in a person’s usual behaviour can be a warning sign of mental health struggles. This could be seen through more reserved behaviour, reluctance to engage in daily conversations and isolation from social events. The person might also be more irritable, with mood swings or a shorter temper than usual, especially over minor issues, which can indicate underlying stress.
Decline in effort
Poorer personal hygiene than usual and a lack of care for their appearance can indicate a lack of care and control within a person’s life. This may also decrease work-related performance, such as a drop in standards and being late to work more frequently.”
If a colleague regularly appears tired at work, this could be a sign of lack of sleep or general fatigue due to emotional exhaustion and stress.
An increase in negative talk about themselves or their lives, both inside and outside of work, and expressing feelings of despair or pessimism can indicate that a colleague is struggling or increasingly depressed about their circumstances.
Missing work without clear explanations or little communication, as well as frequently calling in sick, can be a cause for concern, especially regarding employees who are punctual and reliable in terms of their attendance.
Nick states: “It is important to remember that whilst these signs are not definitive proof of a mental health issue, they can be strong indicators that someone might be struggling. If you are worried about a colleague or want to do more to create a more open and supportive environment, there are steps that you can take.
“Fostering an environment where mental health is prioritised as much as physical health is integral to creating a workplace where people feel that their well-being is being prioritised. This can be done by implementing regular mental health check-ins, providing suitable resources and training, and curating a culture of open conversation.
“Relevant training courses that can improve the well-being of construction workers include ‘Health & Safety Management for Construction’ and ‘Working with Well-being’, accredited by NEBOSH. These courses offer a sturdy knowledge framework to ensure employees know when to take action and how before they become a larger problem.”