Many people would argue that there is still plenty of progress to be made, but mental health is at last starting to be taken as seriously as physical health.
Greater awareness and understanding has been helped by such events as World Mental Health Day, which takes place on 10th October every year, and the championing of celebrity spokespeople such as Prince Harry and David Beckham, who recently revealed that he has long suffered from clinical depression.
Wider acknowledgement that the pressures of modern life can sometimes have a detrimental impact on our mental wellbeing is in itself a major advancement, as it helps to break the silence surrounding mental health concerns and encourages individuals to seek the support they need.
Tiredness and lack of focus on-site can lead to mistakes and accidents
A vulnerable group
UK tradespeople have been identified as a particularly vulnerable group, with research revealing that more than four in five (84%) have experienced mental health problems due to work-related issues.
The research was commissioned by Ironmongery Direct and the report also highlighted that one in ten self-employed workers have symptoms, such as stress, anxiety or depression, on a daily basis.
The ongoing Cost of Living crisis was revealed as the number one concern, with almost two in five (39%) admitting it was a major cause of stress, with fears about job security and the rising cost of materials.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite experiencing more mental health problems, self-employed workers are less likely to take time off work than those who are employed, meaning that they are more likely to risk burnout and potentially make the situation worse.
And tiredness and lack of focus on-site can of course lead to mistakes and accidents which could ultimately have physical as well as mental repercussions.
Invisible in high vis
Earlier this year, On The Tools, an online community aimed at people who work in the construction industry, issued a further study into the mental health of UK tradespeople.
‘Behind the High Vis: a Mental Health White Paper’ explored the scale and impact of anxiety and stress within the building sector, looking at common causes and differences between ages and type of work.
Concern about personal finances was shown to be the most common factor that directly impacts on a tradesperson’s mental health, with 65% highlighting it as a contributing issue, while those who operate alone were found to be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, with 84% saying that they have experienced mental health issues.
The On The Tools report also revealed that a lack of motivation was likely to be a key symptom of someone experiencing mental health problems, with 69% saying that they struggled to find the willpower to continue working and 60% reporting that they had difficulty concentrating.
In an attempt to mitigate such symptoms, 64% of those surveyed admitted to misusing drugs and alcohol, with the standard of their work suffering as a result.
As well as the obvious challenges on a personal level, such issues have consequences for the wider construction industry, with 69% of the tradespeople surveyed saying that they had missed time at work due to their state of mind and 48% reporting that they knew one or more people who had left the industry due to mental ill health.
The report estimates that such absenteeism costs the construction industry almost £2.75 billion every year.
Mental health support
While such dry statistics help to throw some light on the scale of the problem, it’s important to remember that there are personal battles and family tragedies behind the numbers.
It is estimated that around two workers in the industry take their lives every day. The Lighthouse Club is an industry charity that helps those struggling with their mental health and says it receives more than 400 calls a month from families within the construction sector who are in crisis.
The charity offers emotional, physical and financial support to anybody within the industry who needs a helping hand and highlights a number of individual cases on its website (lighthouseclub.org) where it has been able make a difference.
Such charities exist partly because of the lack of support from other sources, with many tradespeople reporting that they are unaware of any services offered by their employers.
In a male dominated industry where many admit to feeling uncomfortable discussing their mental health with colleagues, letting people know that they are not alone and that there is help available in the wider community can provide encouragement to take that crucial first step to reach out and seek help.
You are not alone
The Band of Builders (bandofbuilders.org) is another charity that has succeeded in providing a support network of construction industry volunteers.
Among its initiatives is the ‘Big Brew’, an annual campaign that aims to raise awareness of the mental health issues by encouraging tradespeople to open up about their mental health issues over a cuppa.
In an industry where many are self-employed or may feel isolated and unable to share their feelings with colleagues, it’s important for tradespeople to know that there is somewhere they can turn.
The Band of Builders had also launched the Big Brew’s helpline (text BOB 85258) for those suffering from stress and anxiety and may even be thinking about ending their own lives.
It’s all part of creating a healthier and more supportive industry culture that can only help to break down barriers and, in time, may well help to reduce some of those damning statistics.