Unfortunately, many of us have faced, or will face, mental health issues at some point during our lives. According to MYNDUP, 1 in 8 people in the world live with a mental health condition. Each week in England, 3 in 50 people are diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, and 1 in 6 UK adults have experienced depression.
Mental health in the workplace is a huge issue — 56% of employees are facing depression, and 60% are facing anxiety — which can bring a range of challenges for companies.
We looked into mental health within the construction industry to find out why there is a stigma, and whether this industry deals with mental health challenges often.
We also gained tips and advice from experts on how employers within this industry can reduce the stigma and support employees who may be struggling with their mental health.
Mental health within the construction industry
Mental health is a big issue within the construction industry, however, this may not be too clear given that over two-thirds of those in the industry believe there is a stigma around mental health, which may result in them not wanting to talk openly.
Member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP), Georgina Sturmer commented: “There is a long history of stigma around talking about mental health, and it’s fairly universal across different cultures and industries. It’s often due to misunderstandings around what it means to have poor mental health, what might cause it, and how someone might behave if they experience poor mental health.”
There is a wide range of statistics surrounding mental health in the construction industry such as:
- Over 700 construction workers die by suicide per year in the UK — equivalent to two construction workers every working day.
- Just over a quarter of the industry has experienced suicidal thoughts, and 91% have felt overwhelmed.
- Almost a third of both self-employed and small-firm construction workers feel overanxious every day.
Georgina added: “In traditionally male-dominated industries, the stigma around mental health is even more prevalent. This problem is down to the traditional stereotypes that we attribute to these industries. We imagine that a ’successful’ man is someone strong, stoic, stable, and isn’t affected by the comings and goings of their emotions.”
Why is there a high rate of mental health issues within this industry?
Several factors can contribute to why members of the construction industry in particular can struggle with mental health.
Many of those within the industry can work long hours doing strenuous tasks, which can take it out of them both physically and mentally. Some construction workers may find themselves working 12-hour shifts every day and those who are self-employed are likely to take any work that comes their way, which can negatively affect work-life balance. As well as working long hours, some may also find themselves having to work away from home, and therefore, their family and friends.
Job insecurity is also a common concern in the industry, as many workers are employed on a project-to-project basis. This instability can lead to uncertainty about the future and financial stress, both of which are huge contributing factors to mental health problems.
Georgina added: “There are features of the construction industry that can make employees more prone to experiencing poor mental health. Workloads can be demanding and might involve a high level of risk or physical labour. If there are a high number of self-employed workers within an organisation, this can add a layer of stress as people might be more worried about their job security.”
Currently, the industry is seeing a shortage of both skills and materials, which adds a lot of pressure to those in the industry. This stress could also affect the work they can offer, resulting in fewer job opportunities.
A huge reason for mental health issues within this industry is also due to the fact it’s a male-dominated industry and three-quarters of suicides within the UK involve men. This statistic makes it very clear that men struggle with mental health issues often, but may not open up about them.
Affects mental health can have on the industry
As well as affecting everyday life, mental health issues within the industry can also impact the individual’s job, which can be extremely daunting and create risks.
Regardless of industry, working long hours can be draining, especially when dealing with mental health issues. As previously mentioned, those in the construction industry tend to work long hours completing strenuous jobs — both of which can result in burnout, often making mental health issues worse and also resulting in decreased productivity and focus, which can be dangerous in the construction industry.
What is silent discrimination?
Silent discrimination is also known as ‘covert discrimination’ or ‘subtle discrimination’ — it refers to a type of bias and prejudice that isn’t openly expressed or easily noticeable. This act is when individuals or groups are treated unequally or unfairly due to their gender, race, age, sexuality, or other protected characteristics.
Similarly to the above, mental health discrimination or stigma involves those dealing with mental health issues being treated negatively.
Ellie Mckenzie Burrell, HR officer and mental health first aider at The SEO Works, explained: “Silent discrimination involves more discreet attitudes and actions that undermine the health of others, without their immediate awareness either directly or indirectly towards the individual. Despite this type of discrimination not being as evident, it can still be extremely hurtful.”
Below are some examples of mental health discrimination:
- Excluding or avoiding individuals with mental health problems from projects and work or social events due to perceived restrictions for projects.
- Unintentionally letting biases against people with mental health conditions influence decisions when hiring or promoting employees.
- Using derogatory language or making casual remarks that refute or disparage a person who is struggling with mental health issues.
Derogatory language could often happen in the construction industry due to the ‘banter’ that stereotypically occurs on sites. It’s important to know the line between banter and bullying — research shows 21% of construction employees have experienced bullying in the last year, and almost 3 in 10 say the bullying was labelled as ‘banter’.
Mental health vs. physical health
Physical and mental health are very closely linked – physical health is the state of your body, and mental health is the state of your mind, feelings, and emotions. However, your physical health can affect your mental health, and vice versa.
Despite both issues affecting one another, traditionally, physical health issues have often had much more exposure and support, both out of and in workplaces.
Some reasons for the lack of resources and support when it comes to mental health include:
- Visibility: A big reason that mental health issues may be overlooked and not supported is due to the fact they are not visible. Often, on the outside, people who are experiencing mental health issues will not show any obvious signs, they could appear as healthy and happy individuals, but inside, they are not. Of course, there are physical disabilities that are also not visible, which could result in those who suffer from them also facing silent discrimination.
- Diagnosis: As well as many mental health conditions not being visible, they also tend to be more difficult to diagnose, and diagnose correctly for that matter. This can make it even more difficult for the individual dealing with mental health issues to be open about their feelings, they may doubt themselves and assume they’re overthinking, a common thought among a range of mental health conditions.
- Healthcare systems: Although mental health is certainly more discussed now than it was a few years ago, the services available on the NHS are still very overwhelmed and underfunded, meaning those experiencing mental health may not get the support they need such as diagnosis and therapy. While the NHS does struggle in all areas, physical health services are often put ahead of mental health services.
- Research and education: There is still a stigma surrounding mental health, despite conversations being much more open than they used to be. However, there is still a lack of research and education when it comes to mental health and a long way to go. Physical health, especially those that are visible, has been a topic of discussion for a longer time, and despite there still being a lot of education and research that can be done, there is more out there than mental health issues, which can increase the risk of silent discrimination.
Of course, both mental and physical health are serious issues which are both of equal importance, with a long way to go to reduce discrimination, improve health care services, educate and spread awareness.
Disclosing mental health issues to employees
There are no legal obligations for employees or interviewees to disclose health conditions, physical or mental. In fact, 66% wouldn’t share their mental health struggle with their employer, according to a survey.
Ellie added: “Employees don’t need to disclose any personal information and should never feel like they have to as it’s a completely personal choice. If employees do raise any personal information relating to physical or mental health conditions, a business should have the correct policies and procedures in place for this to be dealt with effectively and in a supportive manner to ensure all employees feel comfortable at work.”
Barriers to disclosing mental health conditions to employers
Many employees may want to share their mental health issues with their employers, but many barriers could make them hesitant to share this information.
A main barrier is a stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health, especially when it comes to males, which increases the difficulty in the male-dominated industry of construction. Employees may feel that if they share their mental health issues, they will be treated differently, stigmatised, and discriminated against, especially if there appears to be a lack of understanding. Stereotypes and misconceptions can result in negative attitudes.
There could also be a fear of negative consequences that could come with disclosing this information, such as demotion, job loss, reduced opportunities, and other factors that could jeopardise their career. This worry could be due to the stigma and may make employees feel that they will be seen as less reliable or capable, and their mental health issues be perceived as a weakness.
The chances of employees opening up about mental health issues will be even lower if the workplace and employer don’t appear to be supportive, by having a lack of policies or training on mental health. Employees may fear they will not get the support they need. It could be possible that an employer has opened up about their mental health to an employer previously and gained a negative response and lack of support, putting them off opening up again.
Although the UK has anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals with mental health conditions from workplace discrimination, such as the Equality Act 2010, employees may still worry that their legal rights will not be upheld. They may also worry that their information will not be kept confidential, which could result in bullying and discrimination within the workplace.
The benefits of disclosing mental health issues to employers
If a worker doesn’t disclose their mental health conditions and their performance or attendance is significantly affected due to it, an employer could fairly terminate the employee. If this information is disclosed ahead of time, employers wouldn’t be able to terminate the workers, as this would be discriminatory.
Also, sharing this information can lead to increased understanding, wider awareness, and empathy for colleagues, and can also encourage companies to have more policies in place to protect and support employees.
It’s a personal decision whether employees disclose this information or not as mental health is very personal and people should only share whatever they’re comfortable with.
How can employers make employees feel more comfortable to share
A key way to help employees feel comfortable to share their mental health issues is by creating a space that feels safe, supportive and positive.
One way to achieve this is by raising awareness when it comes to mental health, this can be done by providing training and speaking openly about it among employees. It’s also important to ensure employees know they are supported and that the workplace is a non-judgemental environment.
Advice for construction workers facing silent discrimination
If somebody feels they’re facing silent discrimination within their workplace, there are a few actions they can take.
- Gather evidence: It’s good to keep track of any incidents that have made the victim feel discriminated against. Make a note of dates, times, locations and descriptions of each situation.
- Talk to somebody: If there’s somebody that the employee feels comfortable talking to whether it’s a family member, friend, or somebody they work with, opening up about their experiences and feelings can bring relief.
- Consult HR: Those in this situation could speak to HR, a manager, or a mental health first aider to make them aware, so they can try to help the situation and speak to those involved.
- Seek legal advice: If the above hasn’t helped, victims can seek legal advice. There are experts in discriminatory cases who can offer further guidance.
Ellie commented: “In any industry if employees feel like they’re subject to silent discrimination, they should speak up and get help. Take down notes on what has been said and done, and bring them to HR or somebody else in the company who could help so that this can be dealt with sensitively and confidentially. It’s not a weakness to get help, especially when it could make a difference to your work life.”
How can the industry be more open about mental health?
Although the stigma surrounding mental health has definitely lessened over the years, it does still unfortunately exist, quite heavily within the construction industry.
It’s important for employers to always be considerate of employees’ mental health, being sure they aren’t singling anybody out or making them feel inadequate. The construction industry can support workers by being more open with mental health, and following the above advice to remove the stigma.
Ellie added: “There are a range of initiatives that can be put in place such as mental health training for new starters and existing team members, mental health first aiders, counselling for employees, mental health sick days, regular check-ins, sharing resources, mental health awareness and charity days and much more!”
Be open from the start
A great way to ensure employees and potential employees know employers care about mental health and are a supportive company is by being open with mental health from the very start, during the recruitment process.
One way to do this is by including mental health statements in job postings, making it clear that the company welcomes and encourages those from all backgrounds and experiences, including mental health conditions, to apply. If a company offers mental health benefits, such as counselling, mental health first aiders, or wellness programs, these should be shouted about in the job post as this can encourage those with mental health issues to feel confident when applying, and sharing their experiences.
It could even be a good idea to provide opportunities for disclosure during the interview process – create opportunities for candidates to disclose any arrangements they may require due to mental health issues if they choose to do so. Some way to open this conversation up is to ask questions like “Is there anything you’d like us to know or keep in mind about yourself to help us support you in the role?”
Training and Education
Providing training and education surrounding mental health can help raise awareness and provide employees with the skills to understand and try to deal with their own and others’ mental health.
- Train interviewers, recruiters, managers and supervisors on how to handle discussions about mental health in a non-discriminatory and sensitive way. People need to understand the legal protections in place and to ensure they’re not asking invasive or insensitive questions.
- Educating the workforce on mental health conditions and how they may come across, highlighting that it is not always obvious when somebody is struggling. Be sure staff understand how to be empathetic to colleagues. Train and educate often, it shouldn’t be a one-time thing.
- Integrating mental health into company culture can help employees feel they always have the opportunity to be open and seek support – it can also ensure the workforce is continuously being educated and more aware. Some way to integrate this into the company culture is by promoting ongoing conversations and reinforcing lessons learnt in training.
Mental health procedures
As well as training and education, there is a range of other ways that companies can support employee’s mental health.
Implement policies and procedures
Develop and outline the company’s dedication when it comes to mental health and wellbeing within policies and procedures, ensuring all employees have access to them. The policies can cover confidently, discrimination and support in detail, which can help put an employee’s mind at ease if they want to open up and gain support about their mental wellbeing.
Employee assistance and wellness programs
To support employees who are struggling, companies could offer an employee assistance program which provides confidential support services, including counselling. If this is implemented, be sure to let staff know it is available. Wellness programs to help with mental health issues could also be put into place – these could include workshops such as mindfulness sessions and stress management workshops.
Mental health first aiders
Training designated staff members in mental health first aid gives those struggling an appointed person to go to if they are in need. Mental health first aiders are trained on how to provide initial support to those going through mental health crisis or challenges. Having this resource available will help make staff feel supported, and they may feel more comfortable going to a designated, trained person.
Leadership role models
Leadership teams within a company should become role models and show their personal support and understanding when it comes to mental health – others will likely follow suit if they see those in leadership showing support. It may also help to share personal experiences, if anybody is willing to, to help those struggling feel like they’re not alone.
Georgina commented: “Role model the behaviour and attributes that you’d like to encourage in your workforce. Think about how you can develop a culture of openness and fairness so that employees feel that they can share their challenges.”
Check in often
Management and senior staff members, or mental health first aiders, could have regular one-to-ones to check in with employees, providing them with a safe and comfortable opportunity to open up. These could either be integrated with other check-ins where promotions and pay are discussed, or there could be a separate opportunity focusing on mental health only.
Mark Coleman, Chief Executive at Colemans, shared his own experiences when it comes to mental health, and also how Colemans are implementing mental health education and procedures within their company:
“Having experienced difficulties with my own mental health, I know how difficult this complex issue is for any modern-day business to understand and get right. In years gone by this would be almost a light-hearted joke, but as the challenges of life get harder as time goes by it is important to really look at how we look after our people. Not just their physical health but more importantly their mental health.
“For me and everyone here at Colemans it started with cultural changes based around education, openness and understanding where it is necessary to have team members who are empathetic with high levels of emotional intelligence. We are working hard to change our own organisation’s attitudes and behaviours, even now after 10 years we are not there yet and I suppose we will never be perfect, making mistakes along the way. But as long as the culture, attitudes and behaviours are corrected as we go on, we will learn from our mistakes. We will improve and therefore have a positive impact on our peoples well being.”Mark Coleman, Chief Executive at Colemans
There is a wide range of support available for those struggling with their mental wellbeing, from charities to helplines to apps!
Demolisten: Demolisten is a mental health charity for the demolition industry – they are in partnership with the registered mental health charity Mates In Mind to support the needs of the demolition industry.
Light House Club: This charity is the only charity that provides emotional, physical and financial wellbeing support to the construction community and their families – they provide a wide range of free and widely available pro-active resources to support the industry.
Mind: Mind is a mental health charity, founded in 1946 as the National Association for Mental Health, offering information and advice to people with mental health challenges. They also lobby government and local authorities on their behalf.
Samaritans: This charity is dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation that can lead to suicide. They offer a helpline, a self-help app, or online communication for those who need somebody to talk to.
Shout: For those who don’t feel comfortable enough to ring, Shout is a free crisis text service for mental health. Those in need can text 24/7 to gain help – all messages remain confidential.
BetterHelp: BetterHelp is an online therapy and counselling app. It allows users to find a counsellor that suits them via web-based, text, and phone interactions.
Andy’s Man Club: This is a men’s suicide prevention charity that offers peer-to-peer support groups that are free to attend. Men are welcome to discuss their issues in a safe place where they won’t feel alone.
Men’s Minds Matter: This is a male-focused suicide intervention and prevention headspace charity. They specialise in developing and delivering psychological interventions for those who are feeling suicidal.
Calm: Calm is a sleep and meditation app. They offer guided meditation that can help lower anxiety, reduce stress, and improve sleep.
Mates in Mind: This charity aims to raise awareness and address the stigma of poor mental health. They lead the development of positive mental wellbeing in the workplace, focusing on construction and other related sectors.
Construction Industry Helpline: The Construction Industry Helpline is managed and funded by the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity. They offer a 24/7 safety net for construction workers and their families, providing support on emergency financial aid, legal, tax and debt management, and support on occupation and mental wellbeing.
Sharing these charities, helplines and apps with employees, via leaflets, newsletters, or word of mouth, can show how mental health is a key part of company culture and give them somewhere to go for help and advice.
It’s great to see how far mental health has come, but it still has a long way to go, especially within the construction industry. If more construction companies implement the above support and procedures, it’s likely more workers will open up and discuss mental health, removing some of the stigma and decrease the chances of silent discrimination.