Increasingly, the construction industry is recognizing mental health issues that have led to alarming rates of suicide and substance abuse among their workers. According to the CDC, construction is one of the top five industries with the highest suicide rates. While many jobs cause stress, both mental and physical, construction presents a unique set of high impact stressors.
Construction is a male dominated industry with a history of macho culture. Workers routinely ‘suck it up’ ‘shake it off’ and seldom feel they can ask for help, particularly in regard to feelings of mental stress or depression. This makes workers particularly vulnerable to self-medicating and/or suicide.
Often employees are expected to work long hours–past physical exhaustion–to complete a job on time and stay on budget. The combination of physical and mental exhaustion sets the stage for work-related injuries. Pain medications are a ‘quick fix’ that can easily lead to abuse as injured workers struggle to stay on the job.
Seasonal layoffs, the ‘hire and fire’ nature of the industry, irregular pay, and the uncertainty of finding the next job can all exacerbate anxiety and depression in workers worried about supporting themselves and their families.
Willingness to address mental health issues in construction is slowly improving. However, starting today, management and workers alike can take the next step in mitigating this problem by being ready and available to communicate openly with fellow workers. It’s important to be aware of alarming changes in co-workers’ behavior, and to react quickly and positively. Here are some of the warning signs to look for.
- A decrease in self confidence
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Decrease in problem solving ability
- Self-isolation from co-workers
- Increased tardiness or absence from work
- Increased and atypical conflict with co-workers
- Decreased competence or productivity
- Sense that worker has ‘checked out’ mentally while on the job
- Inexplicably giving away tools or other personal items
Support your team. If you see something, say something. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see someone hurting. If possible, make a mental health check part of weekly job site discussion.