Prioritizing Mental Health in an Industry That Doesn't Want to Talk About It

Wellbeing resources are out there, but some people still aren't comfortable using them—especially when it comes to mental health in construction.
By Todd Adams
August 9, 2023

The construction industry is known for its high-stress environment, long hours and physical demands, which can lead to issues such as anxiety, depression and/or substance abuse. The construction industry ranks second among all industries in suicide rate, and death by suicide of men in construction and extraction occupations is almost twice the total suicide rate for civilian working men.

Currently, there are between 8 and 12 million people employed in the U.S. construction industry, 90% of whom are men. According to data from CIRP, a production engineering research firm, 83% of construction workers have struggled with mental health issues. Although men's mental-health struggles are not exclusive to the construction industry, it is crucial for us to collectively acknowledge the need to address this issue.

Unfortunately, many men in this industry hesitate to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health and the perception that seeking help is a sign of weakness. A report from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) noted that the majority of workers would be reluctant to seek assistance from both supervisors and colleagues, with the primary reasons to avoid seeking support being shame, fear of judgement and fear of negative consequences.

As construction executives, it is important to prioritize proactive mental-health support for your employees. This can include offering counseling services, promoting mental health awareness and creating a culture that values openness and support. By prioritizing mental health, you can foster a healthier and more productive workplace for your employees, reduce risk and ultimately improve the success of your business.

Recognizing the need for mental-health support in the construction industry, leaders and organizations have been taking steps to address the issue. One such leader is Tracy Brown, CEO of a construction-based consulting company. “Intentionally supporting the mental wellness of employees,” she says, “is not just the right thing to do, it helps create a healthier and more productive workforce.”

Brown believes being proactive is vital to creating change in the industry. “While it’s critical to provide suicide prevention and important from a risk standpoint for an organization to have a plan in place to respond to a death by suicide, I advise companies to provide mental-health support that intervenes well in advance of a crisis. Resources like MenLiving offer judgement free spaces for men to share and connect—an important component that supports mental health.”

To achieve proactive mental-health support, here are some strategies that construction industry leaders can consider implementing:

1. Building Awareness and Reducing Stigma: It is vital to create an environment where mental health concerns, substance abuse, suicide prevention and more are openly discussed. Sharing resources from organizations and professionals working to provide support in the construction industry can help break down barriers and reduce stigma.

2. Proactive Support and Commitment From Management: Leaders should model good behavior when it comes to mental-health discussions. By openly sharing their own experiences and demonstrating a commitment to improving their own mental health, they can encourage others to seek help without fear of judgment. It is essential to educate other leaders in the organization on how to set good practices and create a supportive culture.

3. Developing Ongoing Communication Plans: Creating a comprehensive communication plan to provide mental health resources year-round is crucial. This includes sharing information about available counseling services, employee assistance programs and community resources. Regularly reminding employees about the importance of mental health and the resources available can encourage them to seek help when needed.

4. Identifying At-Risk Employees and Creating Support Spaces: It is essential to identify employees who may be at risk of mental-health issues and provide them with the necessary support. This can be achieved by training supervisors to recognize signs of distress and creating a safe and confidential space for employees to seek help. Additionally, organizations can collaborate with external mental health support networks and organizations to ensure that employees have access to a wide range of resources.

By implementing these proactive strategies, construction industry leaders can create a supportive and mentally healthy work environment for their employees. However, it is equally important to provide employees with readily available resources for mental wellness. Here are some organizations and resources that focus on mental health in the construction industry:

1. MenLiving: A platform that offers judgment-free spaces for men to share and connect offering five virtual full house meeting weekly as well as a specific gathering for men in construction.

2. Prevent Construction Suicide: An organization dedicated to preventing suicide in the construction industry. Their website provides resources and information on suicide prevention.

3. Construction Working Minds: A program that offers resources, training, and support to improve mental health and well-being in the construction industry.

4. CPWR (Center for Construction Research and Training): Provides a range of mental health and suicide prevention resources tailored to the construction industry.

5. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention: Offers a Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace, providing guidance on implementing suicide prevention strategies.

6. 988 Lifeline: A national 24/7 crisis helpline for mental health emergencies, including suicide prevention.

Proactive planning and support for mental wellness in the construction industry are essential to addressing the high prevalence of mental-health issues and reducing the stigma surrounding seeking help. Construction industry leaders must prioritize mental health, create a supportive culture and provide accessible resources for their employees. By taking these proactive measures, the industry can foster a healthier and more productive workforce while improving the overall wellbeing of construction professionals.

by Todd Adams
Todd Adams - Midwest and West Coast Sales Director, JVI

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