What are the signs of the mental health crisis and how can it be improved
An ONS study conducted in 2009 found that one out of six construction workers were suffering with a mental health problem at the time. This demonstrates that mental health issues have been common in the industry for over a decade, an area which needs tackling to support construction employees within their role.
Research has found that serious mental health issues exist at each level of the construction industry. Whether an employee works in an entry level manual job or as a CEO, mental health does not discriminate on who it affects, with a survey finding one of the largest contributors to mental health issues in the sector being late payments.
In this article by Julie Lock, Commercial Director at Mitrefinch we will explore the main reasons why mental health is so prevalent in the construction industry, physical and physiological signs to look for, and how the stigma around mental health in this sector can be tackled.
Causes for poor mental health in construction
One of the most significant causes of the mental health within the construction industry is the nature of the work. With many of the jobs which employees work on being short-term projects, job security is an ongoing issue within the industry. Employees within the construction sector are often unsure of when their next project will come or where it will come from, meaning they are regularly under stress from a lack of certainty.
Uncertainty also comes into play with the unfair payment practices which occur within the industry. Since many construction employees are paid after the completion of the project they are working on, they can sometimes be left without full payment if there are disagreements over the quality of work or meeting deadlines. 90% of construction bosses were found to suffer from mental health issues from late payments, with clients often withholding or delaying payments to improve their own cash flow.
The warning signs of mental health
When detecting signs of mental health, it can often be far easier to spot physical mental health problems among peers or employees than to spot any physiological signs.
For employees who are suffering with panic disorders or anxiety, this can sometimes take the form of panic attacks at work. If you find yourself in a situation where your co-worker is having a panic attack, they may be showing signs of shaking, struggling to breathe, excessive sweating and experiencing a choking sensation.
If an employee or colleague is having a panic attack in your presence, stay with them and try to remain calm. Ask them how you can help or what you can do, using short and clear sentences so they can easily understand. Check to see if they have medication they can take and ask them to breathe in and out slowly whilst counting each breath.
For some, their mental health problems will not be displayed with physical symptoms but instead with psychological signs which can be harder to spot. Some sufferers may seem confused or distracted at work, which is common in those who begin to experience regular lapses in memory. This can be a sign that someone is having difficulty sleeping and that they have been stressed for a long period of time.
Co-workers or employees may also demonstrate underlying psychological distress, perhaps if they become more withdrawn or avoid social activities they would have previously attended. With the stigma around mental health, it may be difficult for employees to feel comfortable speaking out about how they are feeling.
Companies are encouraged to engage in Mental Health Training to produce a MHFAE-trained instructor within their organisation. This can allow employees a safe space to talk and also a platform to refer any colleagues they may be worried about.
Improving mental health within the construction industry
Although looking out for signs of physical and psychological signs of mental health problems with your co-workers and employees is a good starting point, it is clear something needs to be done to tackle the overwhelming issue which exists within the whole construction industry.
Change the payment practices within the industry
With unreasonable payment practices being one of the major drivers of mental health issues for construction managers, it is imperative for best payment practices to be utilised where possible. Clients of construction companies must ensure they follow the payment schedule originally agreed upon, providing targets are met, to avoid placing additional strain on the construction workers.
Employers can also consider adopting a robust payroll system, mitigating the risk of mental health issues for their employees which arise from poor payment practices. A system which allows employees to draw down payment in advance could be extremely beneficial to those who are struggling for money towards the end of the month.
Tackling the stigma around mental health
A culture of not speaking out has meant the mental health epidemic in the construction industry has undoubtedly been aggravated. Wider changes are needed to address the issue within the sector and change the perception which people have of mental health.
One initiative which is paving the way within the industry is the Mates in Mind scheme run with the Health in Construction Leadership Group and British Safety Council. This works to improve workplace mental health and offers resources for education on mental health issues. With charities such as these and the changing of practices within the industry, a change can be made to improve workplace mental health within the construction sector.