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It’s time to change the way the construction industry communicates about mental health to reduce the stigma and ensure that individuals get the help they need. Far too often, mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, mood swings and substance abuse disorders have been cloaked in a veil of secrecy and shame. Yet these issues pose significant risks to health, well-being, safety and productivity. 

According to insurance broker Holmes Murphy & Associates, the construction industry is especially vulnerable to mental health challenges because of factors ranging from financial and family pressures to workplace injuries, chronic pain and substance abuse.

Gender issues also play a role, as data suggest that men are less likely to talk about and work to resolve mental health concerns than women are. This is particularly meaningful for the traditionally male-dominated construction field. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded mental health challenges for construction businesses, according to research conducted by LifeWorks, a human resources services and technology company. The construction industry received the eighth-lowest score, among 22 industries, in the March 2021 edition of The Mental Health Index™, which provides a measure of the current mental health status of employed adults in a given geography. 

To successfully address the mental health crisis, it’s going to take a team approach. The construction industry must work together to begin shifting the attitudes, perceptions and behaviors about mental health—particularly on jobsites, where construction workers may be the most reluctant to ask for help.   

This effort should focus on increasing awareness and initiating conversations that promote acceptance and reduce the stigma of getting professional help. Just as people recognize the importance of taking care of their physical health by eating right, exercising and making healthy choices, they also need to understand the significance of caring for their mental health needs. 

As a large national builder, McCarthy recognizes its role and responsibility in helping to amplify the discussions around mental health awareness, acceptance and treatment options. An internal cross-functional team of safety, human resources and operations professionals recently collaborated on an initiative to expand outreach and communicate more effectively with employees, craft workers and other stakeholders. 

This initiative involved developing new and updated materials, resources and tools to emphasize and support mental health awareness on jobsites and in offices. Materials include toolbox talks on mental health and suicide prevention, as well as highly visible signage to increase awareness. Helpful information is also available for all employees and families through McCarthy’s employee assistance program (EAP). 

On jobsites, hard hat stickers for all employees promote important contact information for mental health resources. In addition, meaningful discussions are conducted with all teams about the importance of mental health and how to immediately access available resources. The company has also leveraged the suicide prevention hotline, vendor partners and other external organizations to get the word out.

A core element is focusing on mental health rather than mental illness. This means helping people accept that mental health equates to taking better care of themselves, and ultimately positively impacts their families and other relationships. By promoting open conversations about mental health, the goal is to change mindsets throughout the construction industry and encourage people to move forward to seek any necessary treatment.

McCarthy is eager to share these insights and resources with other companies, industry groups and trade organizations to continue increasing the focus on mental health issues. Future plans range from adding more support, resources and training for managers and employees to considering an evidence-based mental health crisis response system. 

As a community builder, McCarthy believes that investing in mental health awareness, acceptance and treatment also benefits the communities where its people live and work. The overall health and well-being of employees and their families directly impacts McCarthy’s ability to deliver an exceptional experience to its clients and is vital for the company’s long-term success.  

In fact, breaking the stigma of mental health issues by elevating awareness and changing conversations benefits the entire construction industry.

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