Men in the construction industry account for the majority of suicides in the workforce. The social pressures on men to suppress their feelings encourage workers to suffer in silence. A webinar hosted by Caterpillar Inc., “Mental Health on the Jobsite,” explains that the tough-guy mentality that exists in the industry and the ideals of self-sufficiency that draw people to this type of work are the same personality traits that create a high-risk culture where people are unable or unwilling to seek treatment for mental health conditions. In addition, veterans are often drawn to the construction field, some of who may be suffering from trauma experienced during their service.
In general, the construction industry can have volatile working conditions, like long hours, which can cause physical and mental fatigue, and constant job relocation can result in poor connections to family and friends, causing feelings of isolation. Also, the physical demands and feelings of isolation on the job can lead to self-medication through alcohol, drugs or opioids, which increases the likelihood of suicide.
Furthermore, during the height of COVID-19, layoffs and seasonal work increased while the industry balanced itself between health and economic security. The added stress of unemployment creates an unprecedented amount of insecurity that can affect emotional and mental health.
Importance of Mental Health on the Jobsite
Mentally healthy workers are important for a construction jobsite because it reinforces the safety and well-being of a crew. A happy and healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. Some of the key signs of mental distress are lethargy, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating or absenteeism, which hinder productivity and safety. By advocating for mental health and wellness on the jobsite, crew members are more likely to feel supported and stay in the workforce, encouraging others to look into the construction industry as a career option.
Understanding Mental Health
Mental health is an ongoing balancing act and does not always have to be related to illness. Negative mental health can be due to personal loss, financial issues, relationship problems, etc. and can affect a person’s mental well-being and ability to concentrate. Risky environments, operating dangerous heavy equipment, distractions or an inability to focus puts workers and the public at risk.
Creating environments where people feel comfortable sharing what is happening their lives can empower fellow coworkers to check in on their crewmates, therefore building a safer workspace for themselves and others.
Management as an Advocate for Change
Management has a responsibility for the overall well-being of its employees. Encouraging everyone to be aware of their surroundings and environments is a foundational step to creating a sense of belonging and community. In the construction industry, shifting the culture from one of discipline to one with consideration for employee mental health and well-being can be a key area to help push workers toward seeking help. Leaders should learn and know the warning signs of suicide and make it a part an integral part of their supervision process. By listening, showing compassion and empathy, and being prepared to offer resources, leaders and employees can support each other to prevent suicide and seek help.
List of What to Watch for on a Jobsite:
What people are saying
- Are they talking about suicide?
- Are they talking about feeling depressed or anxious?
- Do they say they feel like a burden to others?
What people are doing
- Increased absenteeism
- Unexplained productivity or performance decline
- Removing themselves from social situations like eating lunch with coworkers
- Acting more recklessly or with disregard for safety protocols
What’s going on in their lives
- Are we hearing about stressors when they talk about their life?
- Do we know that they are going through a divorce, or maybe having difficulty with a child?
- Were they recently laid off?
- Did they experience a major loss?