Preliminary survey findings from a study led by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and Mates in Mind has revealed that almost a third of UK construction workers are now living with elevated levels of anxiety.
The study focused on the mental health of self-employed construction workers and those working in small firms.
The findings show that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance, and Covid-19 pressures on the supply of materials are combining to significantly raise stress levels.
What’s more, construction workers told researchers that the continuing stigma of mental illness prevents them from discussing it beyond close friends or family members.
A ‘hidden crisis’
Sarah Casemore, Managing Director of Mates in Mind, a charity dedicated to improving mental health in the construction industry, 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.”
The study, funded by a research grant from B&CE Charitable Trust, is investigating both the extent of mental health problems in this important 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.
Stephen Bevan, head of HR Research Development at IES, who has led the survey component of the research, commented: “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.”
A helping hand
Mates in Mind will be using the insights from this research to shape a series of interventions to educate, inform, and support workers suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues.
Steve Hails, Director of Business Services & HSW at Tideway and Chair of the Board of Trustees of Mates in Mind, said: “This valuable research undertaken by IES, funded by B&CE, confirms what we suspected when Mates in Mind was formed as a charity by the Health in Construction Leadership Group (HCLG) with the vital support of the British Safety Council.
“Those working for the smaller organisations, sole traders or self-employed – the vast majority of workers in our sector – do not have access to the necessary mental health support to allow them to thrive within our industry.
“The next phase of the research is essential to help us understand what that support should look like and how Mates in Mind can assist with the required improvements.”
Image credit: Aonprom Photo/Shutterstock
Are you a building professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.