Construction workers face a number of risks every day. The physical hardships of the job are well known, but the toll it can take on your mental health is often overlooked. As the nation recognizes Mental Health Awareness Month, the construction industry must address the drivers of mental health risks – including both job insecurity and workplace culture.
Construction workers are at an elevated risk of suicide, with a 2018 study finding their suicide rates about 12 percent higher than the general population at 25 per 100,000 individuals. According to another research study, this may be a result of compositional factors. Construction workers, especially at the entry level, are predominantly men, typically younger and lower income.
Each of these characteristics contribute to a higher risk of suicide. But that’s not the whole story.
In the construction industry, employment is often unstable with a high rate of temporary or casual arrangements. This was exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, when many construction projects were temporarily halted and jobs were hard to find. As a result, workers faced added financial stress. Construction workers also often experience regular periods of unemployment or underemployment. This inconsistency can be anxiety-inducing and take a toll on workers who are under pressure to provide financially for themselves and their families.
Jobsites tend to be highly masculine environments, which can cause workers to feel like they cannot express vulnerability or concerns without the fear that they’ll be seen as weak or incapable. As a result, individuals may feel forced to internalize these struggles and decline to seek support or guidance.
While these realities cannot be solved in a single month, it’s important to raise awareness about this problem. Industry leaders should not only recognize the mental health risks posed by the profession, but offer solutions and encourage workers to get help if they need it.
A healthy workforce – both mentally and physically – will be more productive in the long term, and making sure workers know they are appreciated and heard will help reduce turnover and prevent labor shortages.