A difficult conversation


Having suffered from depression, an ongoing mental health battle that I’m sure a lot of people can relate to, I was surprised recently when the Office of National Statistics released information about the Construction industry and the state of mental health within the workplace.

The Office of National Statistics found that between 2011 and 2015, of the 13,232 in-work suicides recorded, those within the skilled construction and building trades made up 13.2% – despite construction accounting for little over seven percent of the UK workforce.

Over the years I’ve worked within the construction industry, I have seen similar traits in others that I had often clung to myself, not feeling comfortable enough to talk about these issues, to colleagues, friends or family, let alone knowing who to speak to in order to address them.

When you consider the industry today, it’s undoubtedly challenging and stressful: long and demanding working hours, working away from home on site for weeks at a time and the lingering unease in the industry.

I can appreciate that poor mental health can be completely different from person to person but having had help, I now know some of the signs so that I can manage it accordingly. I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand what to look out for:

  • increased lateness, absenteeism or showing up to work physically, but not being able to function
  • decreased productivity due to distraction and cognitive slowing
  • lack of self-confidence
  • isolation from peers
  • agitation and increased conflict among co-workers
  • increased voluntary and involuntary attrition
  • increased feelings of being overwhelmed
  • decreased problem-solving ability.

If you consider that, according to the National Building Specification, people take almost 70 million days off sick per year due to mental health issues, you can quickly start to see how much this can impact projects, companies and the industry as a whole.

At this point, I should add that I am not able to give you a guide as to how to avoid these from happening, nor would I put myself up there as an expert, however, having seen how this can affect people first hand, I do believe we all have a duty of care to deliver, ensuring that the UK construction industry continues to attract people and continues to grow.

The easiest thing, and the hardest part, is to talk about it. If you are concerned about a colleague, ask them if they’re ok. See if they want to go for a walk or a cup of tea at lunchtime. Generally, create a safe environment so they can open up to you if they need to.

As an industry, we already take physical health and safety extremely seriously. Statistics suggest, however, that the most dangerous thing on a building site is in fact the human mind. At a time where suicide kills more people in the construction industry than falls from height, it is only right that mental health and safety is given the same level of thought, time and investment as other site hazards to ensure that the workers in the industry are truly protected.

Recently, the industry has taken steps to reduce the stigma around mental health and to improve support but there is more that each and every one of us can do just by being aware of the signs and encouraging people to talk. Do not underestimate the impact you can make just by talking to someone. You could change someone’s life.

By Paul Grundy