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Building a Strong Foundation: Prioritizing Mental Health in Construction 

mental health for construction

Construction is a tough industry, full of stressful situations and long working hours that can take their toll on individual workers’ physical and mental health. While it’s often easy to recognize the signs of a worker who may be struggling physically, mental health struggles can be difficult to identify. This can often be made worse by the pervasive feeling among construction workers that they need to be “tough” and that their mental health will sort itself out. 

A January 2024 National Alliance on Mental Illness/Ipsos poll found that 15% of employees ages 18 to 29 rated their mental health as “somewhat poor,” and that only 35% of entry-level employees feel their mental health is “very good.” As an employer, it’s essential to give your workers the space, support and resources to prioritize their mental health before workers begin feeling the physical impacts of deteriorating mental health. 

Understanding the Unique Mental Health Challenges in Construction 

The construction industry faces its own set of unique challenges in helping workers address and manage their mental health struggles. These challenges must be overcome to help your workers become their healthiest, safest and most productive, providing a positive impact on your projects. 

Stressful Work Environment 

One of the hallmarks of work in the construction industry is working outdoors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 94% of construction workers have outdoor exposures, and 81% of workers are outside more than two-thirds of the time. Heat and changing weather conditions can lead to stress on an individual worker’s body and mind, especially if they aren’t staying well hydrated, eating well and prioritizing rest.  

Dangerous conditions also can increase a worker’s stress level. Fear of injury, precarious scaffolding and other safety hazards may make even confident construction professionals fearful, and that fear over time can erode the worker’s mental toughness. 

The ever-changing conditions on a worksite, such as schedule changes due to weather or material availability, can be stressful. If a worker was accustomed to a traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday schedule for weeks then there’s a sudden need for overtime that increases their hours or working days, the shift in their life may be a lot to handle. 

Prolonged stress or a sudden stressful event can erode a worker’s mental health, morphing someone who previously felt mentally fine into someone on the verge of a mental break. 

Stigma Around Asking for Help 

While construction workers, as with other industries, are a diverse group, there are a few characteristics that are shared by many individuals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, 80% of construction workers were men and about 50% were Hispanic. Cultural stigma around discussing mental health and asking for help for mental health struggles among these groups — who make up the majority of construction workers nationally — may lead many to not speak up when they’re struggling or when they see a coworker struggling. 

Higher Probability of Accidents 

Construction sites are a delicate balance. All workers must be on their game and committed to the safety of the worksite. Even one small slip could have major consequences. 

Someone who is not feeling mentally strong may be more easily distracted, or they may be physically unwell. This can lead to lapses in judgment, falls and other conditions that could injure a worker struggling with mental health issues or others. A less catastrophic result of a worker not performing at their best is a decrease in productivity and work quality, which can ripple across the project if a scheduled deadline is missed, or something needs to be redone. 

How to Implement Effective Mental Health Programs in Construction 

To help your team operate at their healthiest, strongest and most productive, it is critical to create and carry out an effective mental health program at your organization. Here are three things you can do to help your workers. 

Help Struggling Workers 

As an organization, it is important to ensure that your supervisors are not only keeping track of your team’s work product, budgets, schedule and physical safety, but also that they are looking out for each individual’s mental wellbeing.  

Train your supervisors to identify the signs that someone may be struggling with their mental health, and how to broach the topic with that individual. Roleplay training, which can be found in dedicated mental health first aid training, can help them build their toolbox, as it gives them the opportunity to practice what to say and how to respond. 

Organizationally, make a commitment to assist those workers who may have difficulties in getting the help they need. This can be allowing extra time off for therapy appointments, offering easy access to telehealth mental health appointments and more. If your workers see that your organization values their mental wellbeing, they are more likely to trust that their jobs are safe even if they’re having difficulties. 

Provide Access to Resources and Services 

If you don’t already have a mental health program for your construction company, now is a great time to start. Begin by working with your benefits team or health insurance plan to provide a list of in-network mental health counselors your workers can call for appointments.  

You may consider partnering with an organization that offers group mental health counseling services as an added benefit to your workers. Often, these appointments can be done virtually, allowing your workers to schedule their appointments around their work hours and other life tasks. 

Post signs and include information in your employee handbook about your mental health offerings. Encourage anyone experiencing struggles to speak with their supervisor about resources available to them or their coworkers. The more you talk about the importance of mental health support and show that you value it as an organization, the more comfortable your team will feel coming forward when they need help. 

Create a Supportive Culture 

Your workers are a major part of creating a culture that values mental health and helps everyone get access to the tools they need for their own wellbeing. Cover the importance of looking out for your coworkers in team meetings, and make sure all your workers know that they can ask for help without repercussions.  

You may want to bring in a team that offers mental health first aid training to speak with your team. This program helps empower your workers to look for the signs that one of their teammates is struggling, gives them the tools to approach someone who may need help and makes them aware of the resources at their disposal. By giving everyone on your team the tools to support their mental health and the mental health of others, your workers will be more likely to support and look out for one another, positively impacting your overall worksite health, safety and culture. 

Your Partner in Supporting Mental Health in Construction 

Medcor is your complete occupational health management solution for your construction company. Our experienced teams help your workers stay safe, healthy and productive with onsite clinics, safety services and more, including mental health first aid training. See how Medcor can help your construction team boost their health and wellbeing.