Fighting Mental Health Collapse in ConstructionMay 11, 2022
Construction has long been known as a notoriously dangerous industry. Heavy lifting, large machinery, unstable structures, and unpredictable environmental conditions make the field physically treacherous. But a lesser-known affliction taking its toll on construction workers is the mental strain of the job–long hours away from family, lack of job security, drug use and high-pressure environments can cause workers to suffer from mental and emotional injuries just as they do physical ones. Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it is crucial to recognize and address these invisible wounds in order to promote healing and improve working conditions for all those in the industry.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders (NIMH) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 1 in 4 American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. Suicide is an even bigger crisis, with nearly 46,000 people dying from self-inflicted injury in 2020 alone, and a whopping 12.2 million admitting to seriously contemplating it.
In the construction industry, the numbers are even more grim, with 53.2 suicides per 100,000 workers, per the CDC. This increased suicide rate is due in part to the fact that construction is a male dominated industry, heavily represented by men between the ages of 25 and 54, which is one of the primary demographics for suicides. Because men are less likely to seek support for their mental health struggles due to fear of perceived weakness or failing their families, they tend to suffer in silence until it is too late.
Age and gender are not the only factors that contribute to the mental health crisis in the industry, however. There are numerous realities of the field that add to rising numbers:
- The nature of construction project work often requires workers to travel to out-of-town job sites, spending days or weeks at a time away from loved ones, which can be mentally isolating.
- The high injury rate (77% higher than the national occupational injury average) fosters a culture of opioid abuse, which can lead to addiction and exacerbate mental health issues.
- End-of-season layoffs at many firms cause financial instability for employees and pressure to provide for family at home.
Not only do mental health crises cause ongoing, many times irreversible problems for workers and their families, but a declining workforce due to mental illness also means industry-wide worker shortages.
Jennifer Sproul, President of the Maryland Center for Construction Education & Innovation (MCCEI), recognizes the dire need for employee mental health assistance, citing benefits for both workers and employers. “We need to send [employees] home with better mental health than when they got to work that day. It is not only the morally right thing to do, but it makes good business sense. Depression alone causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays each year at the cost of $17 billion to $44 billion to employers. We are an industry that is facing a major shortage of workers; we need to protect our employees and our assets,” she expressed.
In an effort to tackle the slew of problems facing construction workers and confront the suicide epidemic, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national trade association representing the U.S. construction industry, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) recently partnered to collaboratively address mental health and suicide prevention in construction.
According to ABC’s official news release, “The goals of the partnership are to improve the mental health of construction workers through effective suicide prevention education, intervention and postvention strategies; to encourage, equip and empower mental health champions in the workforce; and to introduce collaboration between ABC and AFSP chapters nationwide.”
With education, team programs, and support groups, ABC and AFSP hope to improve mental health for those in the construction industry and provide resources and education to prevent people from taking their own lives.
“Studies show that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health condition this year, and 50% will experience one in their lifetime. This has an impact on workplaces, too, and that is why a partnership with ABC is so important,” explained AFSP Bob Gebbia for ABC’s official press release. “We commend ABC leadership for the commitment they are giving to the construction workforce and are pleased to help support their efforts with educational programs.”
Along with programs being rolled out by ABC and AFSP, other local construction education organizations are beginning to take steps to support their community members as well. MCCEI hosts a free webinar series in partnership with the Baltimore Metro chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) which aims to break the stigma of mental health in the construction industry. Their next webinar will be held on June 14th and all are welcome to attend. “A mentally-well workforce is a safe workforce. By providing our employees access to mental health resources, by talking about the issues surrounding mental health, we will create a safer work environment with less injuries and less lost time,” says Sproul.
Capitol Technology University offers opportunities in both construction management as well as occupational health and workplace safety, where you can advocate for mental health awareness and safety across the construction industry. To learn more about these programs, visit captechu.edu and explore the various courses and degrees offered. Many courses are available both on campus and online. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: If you or a loved one has been experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, do not hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255, or open a live chat line at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.