Mental Health in construction

I have worked in the construction industry for many years and for most of my tradie coworkers, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention “work” and “health” in the same sentence is OH&S and staying safe on the job. Staying safe on the job is at the forefront of most companies and so it should be, After all the construction industry is one of the most dangerous industries in Australia. It’s responsible for more than half of all worker’s compo claims, yet makes up under a third of the workforce. When you think about Jobsite hazards, physical risks probably top the list — an unprotected fall, an unmarked restricted zone, etc. But what about the dangers you can’t see?

Yes, mental health issues like depression and anxiety are incredibly widespread, yet mental health isn’t something most tradies talk about during smoko or after knocking off. That’s even more surprising when you consider the many serious mental health concerns faced by people working in the construction Industry.

Why are construction workers at risk?

It maybe hard to believe but onstruction workers are actually more prone to facing mental health issues that can result in substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. One of the biggest factors is that 89 percent of construction workers are men and men stereotypically underreport mental health issues and are less likely to talk to anyone about issued or receive appropriate treatment. Many within the industry suffer in silence due to cultural expectations. Despite advancements in education and awareness, mental health issues remain stigmatized in some circles, and suicide is a taboo topic on the job site. Additionally, construction workers — male or female — often deal with issues that can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. These issues include –

  • Competitive, high-pressure work environment
  • High prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse
  • End-of-season layoffs
  • Separation from family
  • Physical exhaustion due to hard labor
  • Long working hours
  • Physical injuries and chronic pain\
  • Bullying in the workplace

All of the above, and more, are proven to challenge mental stability. Their effects on an individual’s well-being are only compounded within a work culture which valorizes “toughness.” As such, many workers feel forced to “deal with it,” not seeking out the help they need, and symptoms get worse.

Ideas to promote mental health at work

One of the most powerful tools in your toolbox to fight against mental health issues is education. No progress can be made without a culture change, and every educated worker is a step closer to quashing the stigma that keeps workers from facing their inner demons.

Here are some great ideas to get you started.

1) Organise show bags or a display

The fist and easiest thing you can do as a business to promote mental health is provide material around the office and worksite. Mental health organisations like MensLine Australia will gladly provide material to promote their helpful services. You can order promotional cards, postcards, flyers, posters and tip sheets, which will be mailed to you at no charge. Simply hand them out at work or put them on display. You can also download and either print or forward all items in PDF form. The more you place the issue front and centre for all to see, the more your workers are going to start thinking about it. Starting a conversation is a great start. and knowing that there is help out there can save a life.

2) Have a breakfast, morning tea or lunch

Placein flyers around the job site is just the beginning. Why not back it up with some sort of event. It is more likely that you will get a better response and engagement is there is free food involved. One reason why so many men struggle with their mental health is that many blokes might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or ‘weak’ if they open up. An event like this suddenly normalises talking about mental health and helps remove the stigma about this topic.

3) Arrange a screening or invite a speaker

Holduing events like BBQs and morning teas are a fu n way to promote mental health, but while you are at it, organise some sort of education piece such as a screening of a video or invite a guest speaker. A speaker is a better of the two options simply because you can ask questions afterwards and it comes with the benefit of live interaction. After an inspiring speech, an affected person just may come forward and start a conversation, and that is all you need to save a life.

4) Offer Mental Health First-Aid Training

Providing training for managers and employees will help them understand the signs so they can offer help should a crisis arise. Mental Health First-Aid training is available and provides training regarding issues around mental health and substance abuse. This type of training should be mandatory and built into all training programs in the industry moving forward. When employees and managers are equipped with the right tools and knowledge, they will be able to identify and mitigate risks associated with mental health.

Look for the signs yourself

Even with education to both your employees and managers, improved awareness, and transparency on and off the Jobsite, it’s still likely that mental health challenges will still go unreported at times. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to see the signs if you’re looking for them.

The following are signs of serious anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts  can be especially noticeable on the construction site:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Increased conflict among co-workers
  • Near hits, incidents, and injuries
  • Decreased problem-solving ability
  • Increased tardiness and absenteeism

Should any of the signs present in workers, respond immediately so these feelings don’t fester and become more serious.

The nature and structure of the construction industry put employees at great risk for mental illnesses. To make a change, companies must decrease the stigma in the industry and raise awareness.

ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT SOMEONE AT WORK?

This guide shows you how to ask if they’re ok and what to do if that answer is “no”. If you’re not in the right headspace to strike up this conversation, you can ask a trusted colleague to do it. In a nutshell:

  • Choose a private moment to ask “how are you going” in a relaxed and friendly way.
  • Explain that you’re concerned about changes in their behaviour and that you care about them.
  • Listen without judgement and ask questions like “how long have you felt that way” to encourage them to open up.
  • Ask if there’s anything they’ve done in the past to manage similar situations.
  • Offer to help to find a health professional and be positive about this approach.
  • Check in to see how they’re feeling in a few weeks, or sooner, if they’re really struggling. Show that you genuinely care and listen to what they say, without judging if no progress has been made.

If you need help from a professional, contact one of the numbers below. You’re not alone.

CRISIS HOTLINES

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia 1300 789 978

Mates in Construction 1300 642 111

Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36

GriefLine 1300 845 745

Headspace 1800 650 890

QLife 1800 184 527

Healthdirect 1800 022 222

Emergency services 000

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