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The construction sector's voice on mental health must be heard

Credit: CIOB

Chartered Institute of Building

5 min read Partner content

It is vital that the Department of Health and Social Care’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan understands the issues causing poor mental health in the construction industry.

CIOB, a professional body which represents 47,000 members across the globe, has been actively engaged in promoting issues impacting the construction industry and wider built environment. In 2019, it produced a shocking report “Understanding Mental Health in the Built Environment” which received over 2,000 responses from those working in the industry. The report highlighted that due to the nature of work, almost all respondents were facing long periods of time where they felt stressed and 26% had suicidal thoughts at least once over the past year – all this before a global pandemic effectively brought the industry to a standstill the following year.

Echoing the findings from the report, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that more than 1,400 men in the industry died by suicide between 2011 and 2015, indicating that this is a serious ongoing issue that must be addressed at an industry and governmental level.

Sadly, with construction being a male dominated industry, mental health is still massively stigmatised, meaning that many people stay silent. If this tradition of not opening up carries on we will continue to see the high statistic of men working in construction being three times more likely to die by suicide, and this urgently needs to change.

A strong focus on promoting wellbeing and health is needed to increase understanding of what mental health is, what good and poor mental health looks like and ways to manage mental wellbeing. This in turn will help to reduce the stigma in the industry and can have a positive impact on people seeking help and prevention.

In its response to DHSC’s call for evidence on its Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan, CIOB highlighted the need to tackle the high level of ongoing, untreated workplace stress which often leads to poor mental and physical wellbeing. A moderate amount of stress can put people in the right mindset to tackle work. However, if the amount of stress increases too much, this can be detrimental to the individual’s concentration, productivity and mental health. If someone experiences too much stress for a prolonged period, it can cause them to feel fatigued, irritable and affect their reasoning, judgement and decision-making skills not only impacting their work life, but also their personal life.

Ultimately, severe or prolonged stress can lead people to feel burnt-out and develop serious health problems both mentally and physically. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that over 11 million working days are lost in the UK each year due to work-related stress. Additionally, the HSE reports that 54% of all working days are lost due to stress, depression and anxiety. It is therefore prudent for government to focus on addressing high stress levels and poor mental health in the workplace alongside employers. However, challenges must be considered within certain industries such as construction, where there is a heavy focus on subcontracting and diversity of SMEs within the supply chain, both of which make it harder to identify those that might be suffering from poor mental health.

CIOB calls for government to work with industries that suffer from high rates of poor mental health and suicide to address the work-related factors before it’s too late

Due to the “macho” culture where workers often suffer in silence and deal with it in isolation, this not only can have a negative impact on the individual but their wider friends, families and colleagues if it is not addressed. If workers feel that they cannot seek support, this could be why we see such high rates of suicide among men in the sector. In its response to the DHSC’s plan, CIOB calls for government to work with industries that suffer from high rates of poor mental health and suicide to address the work-related factors before it’s too late. Although many approaches to identifying and responding to signs of mental ill-health can be applied across the business sectors, hard to reach industries like construction that have complex supply chains and large numbers of self-employed people should receive additional focus.

CIOB is calling for better data collection to understand levels of poor mental health, how companies are trying to reduce issues contributing towards it and what support they need themselves at a company level. Additionally, CIOB recommends better monitoring of interventions to understand across all sectors best practices for implementing mental health prevention strategies and which interventions are most effective for managing and reducing levels of poor mental health.

The built environment sector’s consideration of mental health and wellbeing is not just an issue for its own workforce, but it can also influence the wellbeing of users of the built environment through the design, construction and renovation of the buildings and spaces we all live and work in. The industry has a vast amount of insight and experience to support plans to help improve the mental health of not only its own people, but wider society and has a voice that needs to be heard.

Read CIOB’s response to the DHSC’s consultation in full here.

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