Mental Health Concerns in the Construction Industry

Mental health is an important aspect of the workplace. A supportive, welcoming atmosphere can contribute to increased productivity and job satisfaction, ultimately leading to both personal growth and business success.

Conversely, a negative working environment can cause physical and mental health problems. At the very least, this can lead to absenteeism and high turnover rates. At worse, it can lead to severe mental issues or even suicide.

The latter is, unfortunately, the case in New Zealand’s construction industry. Considering the continuous growth of the sector, the problem is definitely something that needs to be addressed. It’s definitely not an easy task, but it’s also not impossible.

Beyond awareness, it’s also important to have a deeper understanding of the situation to help make things better. Here are some crucial details that people need to know in order to effectively address the problem:

What Is the Suicide Rate in New Zealand’s Construction Industry?

Different bodies of authority have different figures in relation to the suicide rates in the construction industry. However, the numbers add up to one truth and that is that suicide is rampant in the sector.

For example, according to data from the Chief Coroner, an estimated 161 construction workers have died from suicide between 2017 to 2020. Meanwhile, research from MATES in Construction found that there are about 54 suicides per 100,000 workers in the building and construction sector.

The figures are alarmingly similar to those of the United States. According to the U.S. CDC, there are about 53.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 workers in their construction and extraction industries. Considering the difference in population size, New Zealand’s numbers are a definite cause of concern.

Who Are the Most At-Risk?

Because building and construction is a male-dominated industry, it’s inevitable that males also have a greater risk of suicide. This is supported by a report by the Suicide Mortality Review Committee in 2016, which revealed that 7% of male suicides were by those who work in the sector and its adjacents.

In addition, a Site Safe report in 2019 indicated that business owners and self-employed individuals comprised about 11.3% of all the suicide cases in the industry. It was also found that his group is twice as likely to be negatively affected by work-related factors, which is a major driver of suicide attempts.

What Is or Why Is There a Correlation Between Mental Health Issue and the NZ Construction Industry?

The above-mentioned report by Site Safe—which reviewed 300 closed-case coroners files of suicides that occurred in the construction industry between 2007 and 2017—also revealed that “workplace pressures” figured in more than 30% of the cases. These included the following:

  • stress related to owning and running a business
  • getting an injury or disease that affects one’s capability to work
  • job insecurity or uncertainty
  • long working hours
  • pressure to deliver under deadlines
  • difficulties in juggling multiple responsibilities

Of these, the biggest factor seems to be job insecurity or uncertainty, which was included as a reason in 13% of the cases reviewed.

MATES in Construction also offers valuable insight into the pervasive machismo culture in the building and construction industry. Despite the wider understanding of and for mental health issues in recent years, men are still often shamed when they talk about their feelings. Therefore, men are also less likely to discuss their personal concerns or approach a professional about them.

The high incidence of alcohol and drug use in the industry also affects the high rates of suicide in the industry.

What Can Be Done to Address the Problem?

The world at large has come a long way when it comes to overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Still, companies should make a more concentrated effort in ensuring that everyone can receive the support they need to foster good mental health.

It’s a good idea to develop a health and safety plan that’s specifically focussed on mental and emotional well-being. While getting professional help is still the best course of action, just knowing that they will receive on-site assistance can ease a worker’s worry.

Speaking of on-site assistance, having a mental health provider in the immediate vicinity is ideal. If an in-house psychologist or psychiatrist is out of the question, even having a counsellor to talk to will make a world of difference. There should also be training courses geared towards identifying the signs of possible mental health issues. This way, individual employees can reach out to their fellows and possibly help stop a potential crisis.

It’s also a good idea to learn about the history of mental illness to cultivate better understanding and inspire a change in behaviour in people who might still bear prejudices.

How Can Someone Help a Person Who Is Experiencing Suicidal Ideation?

One of the best things to do when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts is to offer your full support. Don’t judge them. Rather, listen and acknowledge what they’re feeling. It’s unhelpful to try and talk them out of their emotions or be patronising. Respect them and gently encourage them to open up to you by being supportive and reassuring.

It’s also a good thing if you can remove the person from the stressful environment. Go somewhere more neutral so that they can feel safer. If going to another location is impossible, remove potentially dangerous items and substances from the person’s home or room.

Of course, the best result will be if you’re able to convince them to get the help they need. You can offer to do research for them, or refer them to the on-site mental health professional. You also shouldn’t commit to secrecy. Be compassionate but also firm when you tell them that you have to tell someone who is better able to help.

Ultimately, intervention from someone who understands can help keep someone safe.

Suicide has long been a sensitive issue and in an industry like building and construction, which has always been plagued by stereotypes, it may be doubly hard to solve. Nevertheless, every effort to reduce suicide rates in the industry is a step in the right direction.

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Sources:

Mental wellness in the construction sector | Construction Accord

Site Safe publishes report on suicide in construction sector

Mental Health and Substance Use (who.int)

Suicide in the Construction Industry: The Silent Killer | EHS Today

Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal – Mayo Clinic

CC Training Academy offers courses on health and safety.