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Breaking the Stigma: Creating Change in Mental Health Awareness within Construction

Construction workers face a unique set of challenges that can take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to discussing mental health challenges often prevents these workers from seeking help, which is one of the contributing factors to why construction has the highest suicide rate than any other industry. This post (as a part of this month's series to shed light on the importance of mental health awareness within the construction industry) discusses strategies for breaking the stigma and creating positive change. By exploring the impact of mental health on construction workers, we can make a meaningful difference in their lives and create a healthier, safer, and more productive work environment.


The current state of mental health awareness in construction

Mental health awareness is a topic that has been gaining more attention in recent years, but unfortunately, the construction industry is still lagging behind in this area (not to dismiss nor minimize the efforts of some really great organizations like Construction Suicide Prevention Partnership, or the work of individuals like Melissa Doman, MA, Cal Beyer, and Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas). It is a widely accepted fact that construction is a physically demanding and often dangerous job, but less attention is given to the psychological toll it takes on workers.


Construction workers face a unique set of challenges when it comes to their mental health. They often work long hours in physically demanding conditions, face tight deadlines, and work on job sites that can be both isolating and high-stress environments. On top of that, they may experience financial strain and job insecurity during periods of downtime or when jobs are completed.


All of these factors can lead to mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout. Unfortunately, because mental health is still a stigmatized topic in many workplaces, construction workers may feel that they are not able to discuss their struggles without fear of being perceived as weak or not cut out for the job.


As a result, mental health challenges can go unaddressed, leading to mental illness and a higher risk of workplace accidents. This is a problem that cannot be ignored, and it is time for the construction industry to start creating change when it comes to mental health awareness.


How the stigma surrounding mental health affects construction workers

The stigma surrounding mental health has a profound impact on construction workers, many of whom feel they must suppress any signs of anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges for fear of being perceived as weak or incapable of doing their job.


This stigma can create a culture of silence and avoidance when it comes to discussing mental health in the workplace, which can have detrimental effects on the overall wellbeing of construction workers. They may be hesitant to seek help when they need it, leading to untreated mental illness that can spiral out of control.


Additionally, the high-pressure nature of the construction industry, where tight deadlines, long hours, and physically demanding work are the norm, can further exacerbate mental health challenges, leading to burnout and exhaustion.


Creating change within the construction industry will require a concerted effort to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. Employers and colleagues alike must be willing to start an open dialogue about mental health and provide resources and support for those who are struggling.


Furthermore, we must recognize that mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness and that seeking help is a strength. By promoting this mindset, we can start to create a culture of openness and understanding that will benefit the mental health of all construction workers.


Steps that need to be taken to break the stigma and create change

Let's discuss what steps need to be taken to break the stigma and create real change.

  1. Start with leadership: Change can and should happen from multiple places within an organization, but leadership's active and visible support is critical to successful change.

  2. Build a coalition: Change doesn't happen within a silo - partnerships must be developed between operations, safety, HR, leadership... the list goes on... these collaborations create a network of support throughout the organization.

  3. Ensure access to resources: Take a look at your internal policies, programs, and benefits to see if they are supporting the change you want to see. While you are doing this be careful of the trap that you need to provide all of the resources internally. There are a wealth of external resources available within your community - tap into those too!

  4. Educate your workforce: Education is one of the keys to breaking the stigma. Organizations should provide mental health awareness training to their workers, informing them about how common mental health challenges and illnesses are, the reality of recovery, and the resources available for support.

  5. Keep the conversation going: Mental health matters all year long - not just during Mental Health Awareness Month. Creating spaces where employees can communicate about their mental health challenges can be helpful in breaking the stigma. Leaders have a responsible to create and support an environment where workers feel comfortable sharing their feelings and emotions, without the fear of being judged.


Breaking the stigma and creating change won't happen overnight, but we can take steps towards creating a safer and more supportive environment for construction workers. We all have a role to play in promoting mental health awareness and helping those who may be struggling.


What you can do to help

Breaking the stigma around mental health in construction is not a task that can be accomplished overnight. It takes the collective efforts of everyone in the industry to make a difference. Here are some things that you can do to help create change:

  1. Start the conversation: Begin by talking about mental health and well-being in your workplace. This could be a small talk during lunch break or a larger event like a workshop.

  2. Educate yourself and others: Read up on mental health, take courses (like these from Melissa Doman, MA on LinkedIn Learning) or training (like Mental Health First Aid), and encourage others to do the same. By being informed, you can help dispel myths and misconceptions about mental illness.

  3. Listen without judgment: Be a supportive colleague and listen to those who may be struggling. Avoid judgment or dismissing their experiences and encourage them to seek help if needed.

  4. Support your own self-care: Focus on your own healthy behaviors like getting enough sleep, taking breaks, and eating well (more on this next week).

Remember, even small steps can make a big difference in breaking the stigma and creating change in mental health awareness within the construction industry. Let’s work together to make mental health a priority in our workplace and create a healthier, more supportive industry.

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