High levels of mental distress and a reluctance to seek professional help among UK construction workers is leading to increased alcohol consumption, non-prescription drug use and even self-harm, a Mates in Mind study suggests.
It is being described as the industry’s hidden crisis, serious enough to jeopardise UK economic recovery.
Mates in Mind, a mental welfare charity, and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) spoke to more than 300 construction workers in a study funded by the B&CE Charitable Trust.
Early findings indicate that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance and problems with the supply of materials are combining to significantly raise stress and anxiety levels among self-employed construction workers and those working in small firms. Preliminary survey findings suggest that almost a third of interviewers were enduring elevated levels of anxiety each day.
Sarah Casemore, managing director of Mates in Mind, said: “We have a real concern that the data shows that sole traders and those working in smaller firms with more severe anxiety were least likely to seek help from most sources. This means that too many construction workers every day are going under the radar and are not seeking support from healthcare professionals or mental health charities. This represents a real hidden crisis, which threatens the viability of a major sector of the UK economy and many of those who work in it.”
The study is investigating both the extent of mental health problems in construction and the extent to which more accessible forms of support can be offered to individuals in distress, depression or anxiety. As reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the suicide rate among construction workers is three times the national average for men, equating to more than two construction workers taking their own life every day.
Stephen Bevan, head of human resources research development at Institute for Employment Studies (IES), led the survey component of the research. He said: “We have been concerned to find that so many construction workers are finding it hard to disclose their mental health problems and that these are also causing them to lose sleep, develop severe joint pain and exhibit greater irritability with colleagues and even family members. We are hoping that our upcoming interviews with some of our participants will shed more light on the types of support which they feel comfortable and confident to use.”
Nicola Sinclair, head of the B&CE Charitable Trust, said: “This research from Mates in Mind is incredibly important to the construction industry as it shines a bright light on a very real problem that is often overlooked. The information gathered will hopefully prove to be an important first step in ensuring that all construction workers have access to help when it comes to mental health and stress related issues.”