One in four (26%) construction workers contemplated suicide last year, according to trade body The Chartered Institute of Building.
Even before the uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, 97% of individuals working in construction said they had felt stressed at least once in 2019, commonly driven by worries about job security, long working hours, time away from family, and lack of support from HR teams.
These findings, outlined in the CIOB’s Understanding mental health in the built environment report, showed there was a “silent crisis” in construction, said CIOB president Professor Charles Egbu.
“Tackling mental ill-health is going to remain a significant challenge for the industry over the next few years, and we must work as a collective – involving industry, government, and professional bodies to make more fundamental changes and improvements to mental health provision,” he said.
“We know that the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the way many of us live, work, and play, and in recent days it has become extremely difficult for individuals who are doing their best in extreme circumstances.”
More than half (56%) of those polled for the report said their organisation did not have any mental health policies in place.
The report advises construction firms to do more to identify risks, improve awareness through training and events for staff, encourage open discussion of mental health, and provide specialist support services. Larger firms should also consider how they could support other businesses in their supply chain, it suggests.
Egbu said: “The entire construction industry needs to continuously work on the structure and environment that negatively impact workers’ mental health – no one person can solve this on their own.
“Over 30% of all construction sites have no hot water, and no toiletry facilities for workers. All these things have an impact on the mental health and wellbeing. For organisations to take this up, they need to be in a position where the financial environment is conducive for them to do that, and hence, we need support from government to help us in this regard.”
The report recommends that the Construction Skills Certification Scheme is bolstered to include mental health support, while the Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 are updated to ensure workplaces make provisions for mental first aid.
Finally, it asks that the recommendations of the government’s Thriving at Work report from 2017, which looked at mental health in the workplace, are taken on board.
Simon Blake, chief executive of Mental Health First Aid England, said: “In organisations we work with, we know the positive impact our training has in raising mental health awareness, improving signposting and increasing uptake of support, as well as empowering people to access the help they need to recover and stay well.
“At the same time, we know that evidence-based training like Mental Health First Aid is just one part of a whole organisation approach to supporting people’s health and wellbeing.
“Taking a holistic approach means focusing on creating the conditions for people to thrive, raising mental health literacy and ensuring pathways to further support are clear. From effective training for managers and leaders, to healthy job design, reasonable adjustments and flexible working, firms of all sizes must be supported to consider a range of measures in building a thriving and supportive working environment,” he added.