Mental Health in the Construction Industry | What We Can Do Better


Photo by Christopher Burns

“Rub some dirt on it.” 

That’s often the phrase you hear to describe the tough-guy mentality for handling pain. 

But what about the pain that dirt doesn’t quite reach? The kind that stems from stress, anxiety, and depression?

In the blue-collar world, this grit-and-bear-it attitude stretches outside the physical demands of the job.

According to the Center For Disease Control, suicide rates in blue-collar industries are up 40 percent in 17 years. 

This is on top of the sobering fact that the construction industry has the highest rate of suicides of any profession on a global scale. 

So what can we do?

First is understanding the problem.

Industry Factors That Can Cause Depression

According to Steve Mongeau in his interview with Boston 25 News, the factors that contribute to industry-related depression include “working in a high-pressure environment, a higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, separation from families, and long stretches without work.” 

Photo by Silvia Brazzoduro

Along with a physically demanding job, construction workers often deal with short-term employment that requires long hours, tight deadlines, and irregular sleep schedules. 

“It’s a high-pressure environment,” Mark Carrington, the managing director of Worksafe Partnership, told The Guardian. “A lot of guys are away from family all week. When every night you might be on the booze, you’re in a room by yourself. Loneliness, the drink, the pressure – the banter when it goes too far and becomes bullying.”

These factors have been ingrained in the industry for years, and with unemployment skyrocketing across the country and fieldwork being shut down in some states, these factors are even more worrisome today.

Warning Signs

Now that we know the factors that contribute to the problem, the next step is understanding the warning signs of someone who is at risk.

The following warning signs from the National Institute of Mental Health are important for employers to recognize in the field:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Talking about unbearable pain, both physical or emotional
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking risks that could lead to death, such as reckless driving
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Changes in work performance like increased tardiness or absenteeism

Prevention

What can we do to improve mental health in the construction industry?

One way is to spread awareness. The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention is working to spread information and resources for how to combat this industry crisis.

CFMA is asking industry professionals to take the pledge to create “safe cultures, provide training to identify and help those at risk, raise awareness about the suicide crisis in construction, normalize conversations around suicide and mental health, and ultimately decrease the risks associated with suicide in construction.”

Employers should also consider taking progressive steps to increase workplace mental health by offering benefits like access to on-site counselors, funds for sites like BetterHelp and Talkspace, and providing training sessions on how to cope with the stress and anxiety on and off the job.

This rough-and-tumble industry breeds tough, hardworking people, but that doesn’t have to come at a price. For those who truly understand the daily grind of construction work, lets spread awareness and overcome the stigma behind asking for help.

For more information on industry-related tools and resources visit The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention website.

If you or someone you know is at a point of crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For help with alcohol or substance abuse, contact Drugfree.org by calling 855-378-4373 or texting 55753. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can also assist with referrals to treatment facilities, counselors, support groups, and more. Call 1-800-662-4357 to speak with a counselor 24/7.