Construction workers: don’t be shy to speak up on mental health

Male site workers in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average UK male. So why are we so afraid to discuss mental health in the industry?

Mental health and wellbeing are increasing in importance for many people but the construction sector still seems to be behind in tackling this. Taking time out to ensure you’re mentally healthy is now just as important as going to the doctor for a broken leg and this is something that needs to be openly discussed in the construction industry. With an increase in suicides over the Christmas season, now is the time for tradespeople to abandon bravado and talk about how they are feeling.

Why is this such an issue in the construction sector?

There’s no denying, working in construction is hard. The hours are long, and work is often challenging and in less than optimum conditions. Decreasing budgets and strict deadlines also create additional stress for tradespeople.

Moreover, the industry workforce is predominantly male and the historic attitude of ‘not discussing emotions’ is prevalent within the industry. This leads to many bottling up emotions and suffering in silence.

It’s okay, to not be okay

We all have bad days, it’s a part of life. But sometimes, bad days become bad weeks; bad weeks become bad months and soon it’s hard to remember when you last had a good day. If this sounds like you, the hardest part can be admitting it. You don’t have to feel this way forever though, there are things that can help:

Visit a doctor

Visiting a doctor is a great first step for combatting any mental health problems. Whether it’s medication, counselling or therapy, they’ll be able to create a plan to get you back on track. If you don’t know where to start when speaking with a doctor, MIND charity has a great campaign called ‘Find the Words’ that can help.

Talk to your friends and family

The behavioural changes that can occur with poor mental health can cause friction with your friends, family and colleagues. Explain what’s going on and talk to them. They’ll be more understanding and it might reduce the stress you’re experiencing.

Take time out

Whether you’re having a bad day, or the problem is more long term – take time out for yourself. Day-to-day, make sure you have a healthy work life balance and don’t be afraid to take five minutes away from a difficult job to gather your thoughts and get some headspace – it’ll probably make you more productive too!

For a more long-term plan, make sure you have a hobby or activity you enjoy. This can be anything from the gym, to climbing a mountain, to reading. As long as you enjoy it, don’t neglect it and invest some time each week to spend time doing it.

Cut down on caffeine and nicotine

Alcohol, coffee and cigarettes might make you feel better in the short-term but they actually increase feelings of anxiety and stress in the long run. If you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed, try cutting them out and see if you see a difference.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

We’re often our own worse critic and chances are, no one is recognising your faults or downfalls as much as you are. Try to keep things in perspective and list the positive things about yourself rather than the negative.

What should you look out for?

There are also certain signs you can look out for amongst your colleagues that indicate they may be struggling with mental health. These include:

  • Isolation
  • Lack of self confidence
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Loss of interest in work or socialising

What can you do?

If you think a friend or colleague is suffering from depression or stress, it’s easy to think ‘there’s nothing I can do to help’, but that’s not true. Often, knowing that someone is available to talk to, someone that understands how you feel, can make people feel less alone and open to the idea of receiving help.

Whilst, in the workplace, there are things you can do to help people that may be suffering from ill mental health:

  • Creating a culture where people don’t need to hide their feelings is crucial. Encourage your colleagues to be open about how they feel, if they feel comfortable doing this. Cliched, but a problem shared is often a problem halved.If someone isn’t open to talking about their feelings, don’t force them. Take them to one side and simply let them know that you are there to talk if they need to.

  • It is also important to make sure you don’t use language that could shame or embarrass someone if they are experiencing mental health problems. We’re sure you will often hear phrases like ‘don’t be soft’, ‘man up’ and ‘stop being a baby’, but this creates a culture where people will bottle up their feelings for fear of ridicule.

  • Remember, most of the time tradespeople are working as a team. Don’t pass the blame if a job goes wrong or gets delayed and don’t pass all of the expectations onto one person. If someone feels solely responsible for a task, the pressure can be overwhelming – especially if it goes wrong. This can create unrealistic expectations and cause an abundance of stress. Instead, look at how the entire team can help resolve a problem.

If you are feeling the impact of stress this Christmas, or at any time of year, here are some numbers you can call to chat to a trained professional and access help:

Samaritans - 116 123

Campaign Against Living Miserably (for men) - 0800 58 58 58 (5pm to midnight every day)

Papyrus (people under 35) - 0800 068 41 41 (Monday to Friday 10am to 10pm, weekends 2pm to 10pm, bank holidays 2pm to 5pm)

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