In comparison to the general population, construction industry workers are more than twice as likely to commit suicide, according to research from Mates in Construction and consulting firm PWC.
Mates in Construction is an organisation working to train and assist employers to manage mental health issues among employees. Using research from Mates in Construction, Milton Walters, VP of Marketing APAC at Procore described several factors which he says may lie behind the high suicide rates across the sector,
Courtesy largely of the male-dominated nature of the industry, a masculine culture has resulted in images of a tough and hard worker and discouragement for those who experience anxiety or struggles from raising issues openly. The project by project nature of the work can lead to a lack of consistency and routine which provides generates a sense of instability (and financial insecurity). This also exposes workers to constant changes in work crews and inhibits their ability to formulate close working relationships.
Other studies have revealed similar findings, including one by researchers at Deakin University this year which found that construction worker suicides can be classified under 3 wider categories.
First, the overarching economic structure of the industry fuels work-related stress factors including transient working conditions and a lack of secure employment as well as debt related stressors and pressure at work. Many of those in the study also experience personal stresses such as legal issues, family breakdown or substance abuse and/or mental health issues. Finally, the researchers echoed Walter’s view on the masculine nature of the work environment and associated stigma associated with mental health issues or reaching out for help.
While there are a number of organisations improving awareness, education and support, there needs to be action on several fronts, Walters says.
One of the solutions he says is individual employers offering services to their teams such as employee assistance programs or training around mental health at the beginning of a new project.
It is vitally important to increase awareness about signs that a colleague may be experiencing mental health problems and how to take action.
He also highlighted the importance of open and honest communication and opening up discussion in the industry, he explained,
“It’s time for the construction industry to ensure that mental illness is something that can be talked about openly,” Walters said. “There needs to be an open conversation to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
“Workers need to know that they are able to talk about their experiences without feeling isolated, ashamed or frightened – and it’s up to the industry to open up this discussion.”