A third of workers suffer poor mental health

By Dan Colombini13 December 2021

High levels of mental distress and a reluctance to seek professional help among UK construction workers is leading to increased substance abuse and self-harm, according to a new study.

The Institute for Employment for Employment Studies research shows that a third of workers at UK construction sites now suffer from anxiety.

Early findings from the study by the Institute for Employment Studies and charity Mates in Mind, show that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance and the impact of Covid-19 on the wider construction industry is significantly increasing workers’ stress and anxiety levels.

As a result alcohol consumption, non-prescription drug use and even self-harm are all on the rise, according to the research.

The study, funded by the B&CE Charitable Trust, shows that the mainly male workforce is reluctant to seek treatment for mental health issues.

Preliminary survey findings from over 300 respondents suggest that almost a third are now living with elevated levels of anxiety each day.

The research is investigating the extent of mental health problems in this key workforce and the extent to which new, more accessible forms of support and guidance on mental wellbeing can be offered to individuals experiencing distress, depression, or anxiety.

Construction mental health statistics UK

As reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the suicide rate among construction workers is already three times the national average for men, equating to more than two construction workers taking their own life every day.

Sarah Casemore, managing director of Mates in Mind, said, “We have a real concern that the data shows that sole traders and those working in smaller firms with more severe anxiety were least likely to seek help from most sources.

“This means that too many construction workers every day are going under the radar and are not seeking support from healthcare professionals or mental health charities. This represents a real hidden crisis which threatens the viability of a major sector of the UK economy and many of those who work in it”.

Mates in Mind, which is dedicated to improving mental health in the construction sector and its related industries, said it will use the research to create a series of interventions for sector workers.

These aim “to educate, inform and support workers whose mental health is causing problems with sickness absence, an increased risk of accidents at work and, ultimately, the risk of an exodus from the sector”. 

Stephen Bevan, the Head of HR research development at IES who led the survey component of the research, said, “We have been concerned to find that so many construction workers are finding it hard to disclose their mental health problems and that these are also causing them to lose sleep, develop severe joint pain and exhibit greater irritability with colleagues and even family members.

“We are hoping that our upcoming interviews with some of our participants will shed more light on the types of support which they feel comfortable and confident to use.”

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