Construction is a notoriously tough job, and while construction workers are known for their fortitude, many are quietly suffering from mental health issues. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates are significantly higher among construction workers compared to the general population. What’s driving this grim finding? And how can companies address mental health among their construction employees?
If you or someone you know needs help, please use the resources below and remember that you are not alone:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: Free, confidential mental health support 24/7. Anyone in the U.S. can get help by dialing 988. Counselors are available to chat online or via text. For immediate help, dial 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis Text Line: Free 24/7 service available via text message if you need support for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, or self-harm. Text HOME to 741741 in the U.S. to speak to a trained crisis counselor.
Sources compiled by procure.com. Click the link for more information.
Mental Health in the Construction Industry
There are several possible reasons why construction workers are more susceptible to mental illness and suicide. Construction is a very physically and mentally demanding job. Workers often clock long and irregular hours and perform a variety of laborious and dangerous tasks that can cause long term physical pain and injury. All of this can amplify stress, anxiety, and sleep irregularity.
Another problem is the culture of construction. The construction industry is notorious for its tough persona. This toughness can be damaging for those experiencing depression or anxiety and make them less likely to seek help for fear of judgment by their peers.
All of these factors can lead to other serious problems like drug and alcohol abuse. Sadly, Construction has the second-highest rate of heavy alcohol use among all industries.
Ways to Address Mental Health in Construction
There are many ways your company can address employee mental health. Below are a few ideas to add to your wellness arsenal.
Use and Promote an EAP
An Employee Assistance Program (EAP), is a program designed to help companies address issues related to mental health, addiction, childcare, relationship problems, and traumatic events among employees. EAPs can anonymously connect employees to resources like nurse helplines, legal assistance, and mental health services. These services are often online via video chat, texting, or over the phone. They are free for your employees and typically cost only around 75 cents to $2 per employee for the company. Sometimes, you can add an EAP program to your company’s benefits package through your insurance broker.
Once you have an EAP it’s important to make it known to your employees. Make sure you periodically remind them of the EAP program and stress that the services are free and available to use at any time. If you can, try to address some of the misconceptions and stigma associated with EAPs. Employees may worry that others will find out they used the service or that it could impact their employment. Make it clear to your employees that there is no shame in using these programs and that they are 100% confidential.
Get Leaders Involved
Supervisors and team leaders spend a lot of time around their employees so they’ll probably be the first to notice if something seems off. If they do, you want them to know exactly how to handle the situation. It is important to provide training for leaders so they can better spot the signs of mental health and substance abuse issues and how to guide employees towards help. Sometimes, your insurance company can help provide training to team leaders as well.
Learn to Spot the Signs
It would benefit everyone in your company if they knew at least some of the warning signs of common mental health disorders:
- Showing up late to work
- Decreased productivity at work
- Isolating themselves from the team
- Taking unnecessary risks
- Conflicts with other team members
- Difficulty with concentration
- Excess drug and alcohol use
- Mood swings
If an employee is exhibiting any of these signs, leaders should immediately direct them toward the proper care systems. It’s so important to help someone who is struggling with their mental health quickly so they can get the help and support they need sooner.
Utilize “Toolbox Talks”
Toolbox talks are essentially guided meetings where supervisors bring awareness to safety issues in the workplace, including mental health. There are various online resources for these guides which typically come in PDF form.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), provides monthly guides for their Toolbox talks, which include work safety briefings based on OSHA standards. Toolbox talks are provided by OSHA in the form of PDFs and that you can download for free from OSHA’s website.
The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention also provides toolbox talks more focused on mental health. Topics range from suicide prevention, recognizing the signs of substance abuse, and social media safety.
Use Mindfulness techniques
During meetings and toolbox talks, practicing meditation and mindfulness can greatly improve your team’s mental health. Mindfulness is a meditative technique that involves staying in the present moment, focusing only on the current situation. Mindfulness isn’t just some esoteric spiritual ritual, studies have shown that mindfulness can ease depression and anxiety and even lessen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, psoriasis, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Amazingly, many studies have already shown that mindfulness can specifically improve worker mental health and safety on construction sites.
Mindfulness, like any other skill, needs to be taught and practiced. It may be a good idea to bring in a mindfulness coach to teach your team and leaders how to utilize this important method. Additionally, you can provide mindfulness based classes like yoga or apps like Headspace in your benefits package.
Practicing mindfulness can help your team on and off the jobsite. They’ll likely be more focused, less anxious, and ready to tackle even the most challenging projects. At home they may sleep better, feel less anxiety, and even reduce bad habits like drinking excess alcohol.
Everyone needs a break. And with a physically strenuous job like construction, you can argue that construction workers really need a break. But, many tough it out and end up burning themselves out. It is recommended that you require at least one week of PTO per year so even the most stubborn employees get a vacation. They’ll return better rested, more focused, and ready to get the job done.
Get to Know Your Employees
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help your employees navigate the challenges of construction work is to get to know them. By leading with empathy and bonding with your staff, you’ll be better able to recognize if one of them is struggling.
Still, you won’t always be able to know when people need help. That’s why it is so important to provide the proper resources, training, and information to support your whole team. Providing an EAP, hosting mental health focused Toolbox talks, enforcing mandatory PTO, and teaching mindfulness techniques are great foundations for a healthier workplace.