Construction industry named the highest for suicide rates - how to know when it's 'Time to Talk'

1st February 2024

According to the most recent ONS data, construction is the industry with the highest rate of suicide. In 2021, 507 construction workers took their own lives - the equivalent of two workers every day1. It also has a suicide rate three times higher than the national average for a male worker. 

Construction workers are also more likely to experience anxiety at work, with a third suffering from elevated levels of anxiety every day, and over two thirds believing that there is a stigma surrounding mental health which stops them from talking about it2.

As Time to Talk Day approaches on the 1st of February, we discuss how businesses can build a robust and open culture where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health freely.  

Nick Higginson, CEO at Phoenix states: “1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England3. Mental health issues can take over 7.5 times longer to recover from than physical illnesses, which paints a very clear picture of the importance of prioritising the mental wellbeing of your colleagues.”

Demanding labour, long hours, and high-risk environments can present unique mental health challenges. If you are a manager or worker in construction, Nick shares the warning signs you can look out for so that it is easier to recognise if a colleague may be struggling.

Changes in behaviour

Nick shares: “Changes in a person’s usual behaviour can be a warning sign of mental health struggles. This could be seen through more reserved behaviour, reluctance to engage in the usual day-to-day conversations and isolation from social events.

“The person might also be more irritable, with mood swings or a shorter temper than usual, especially over minor issues, which can indicate underlying stress.”

Decline in effort

Nick comments: “Poorer personal hygiene than usual, and a lack of care for their appearance, can indicate a lack of care and control within a person’s life.

“This may also result in a decrease in work related performance, such as a drop in standards and being late to work more frequently.”

Visible fatigue 

Nick explains: “If a colleague is regularly appearing tired at work, this could be a sign of lack of sleep or general fatigue due to emotional exhaustion and stress.”

Increased negativity

“An increase in negative talk about themselves or their lives, both inside and out of work, as well as expressing feelings of despair or pessimism, can be a sign that a colleague is struggling or feeling increasingly depressed about their circumstances.”

Unexplained absences

Nick says: “Missing work without clear explanations or little communication, as well as frequently calling in sick can be a cause for concern, especially regarding employees who are usually punctual and reliable in terms of their attendance.”

Nick continues : “It is important to remember that whilst these signs are not definitive proof of a mental health issue, they can be strong indicators that someone might be struggling. If you are worried about a colleague or just want to do more in order to create a more open and supportive environment, there are steps that you can take.

Matthew Gill, Regional Director of Psychology at Cygnet Health Care, shares: “We don’t need to wait until we are struggling or notice someone else is to open up, it’s important to start the conversation now so that those around us know it is safe to share.

Sharing his tips on how to listen with compassion, Matthew says: “Acknowledge their courage to open up, tell them how proud they should be for reaching out. Provide them with reassurance that you are there for them, that it is not their fault and they are not alone in their struggle.”

He continues: “Pay attention to what they are saying, consider your body language and give them the space they need to say what they want to say. Validate what they are saying, show them you understand and believe them and thank them for sharing with you.”

Nick adds: “Fostering an environment where mental health is prioritised as much as physical health is integral to creating a workplace where people feel that their well-being is being prioritised. This can be done by implementing regular mental health check-ins, providing suitable resources and training, and curating a culture of open conversation.

“Relevant training courses that can improve the well-being of construction workers include ‘Health & Safety Management for Construction’ and ‘Working with Wellbeing’, both of which are accredited by NEBOSH. These courses both offer a sturdy framework of knowledge to ensure employees know when to take action and how before they become a larger problem.”





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