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How can we lower suicide in Construction?

Posted: 21st September 2017

Andy Dean

Managing Director


If you're reading this then congratulations you are about to enter the realms of supporting your mental wellbeing, being able to better resource yourself, increase productivity, meet the deadlines and have healthier handovers. All that, and enjoying a happier life too!

When the hours are stacking up, the margins are getting tighter and with the pressure increasing, how do you manage the stress this causes? How do you not take this home with you? And equally how do you not take the stresses and strains of home life to work?

Well, good news, the impact this is having on the mental wellbeing of our industry's workforce is finally being recognised. 1 in 4 of us will have a mental health issue during the course of the coming year. More than half of those in the trade - 55% - have suffered mental health issues, more than double the national average according to mental health charity Mind. So, look around you and start counting. What that really means is there are a lot of people who for some reason can't, won't or find it hard to talk about what's going on for them. They are not able to share how they are feeling because there's been little or no support in construction.

Three in ten, 29% of construction workers have taken time off due to stress and similar issues but only 32% of these told their boss the real reason for their absence.

Back in September 2016 I was interviewed in London by the Financial Times on the suicide percentages rates within the construction industry. The statistics show the suicide rate is the highest of any trade in Britain – it's 63% higher than the national average!

I found it interesting that the Government launched a scheme for the younger generation through a National Citizen Services program this provides information on mental health that offers services for young people to support and help improving their mental wellbeing. This could lead to a whole generation of people being able to talk about the struggles and challenges they face in their day-to-day life in a more open and honest way.

The challenge we face in our industry is how we build an environment where we can talk about our inner wellbeing, 'our feelings' open and honestly. There are plenty of tools that make life easier on the outside but where do we find the tools that make life easier on the inside?

We have a chance to draw up a new set of plans for this one, creating a culture change in our industry where the stigma around sharing how we feel, talking about our wellbeing, our feelings isn’t seen as a sign of weakness and not being able to cope.

How ridiculous is it?
Why would young people be attracted to working in an industry that suffers from a perceived macho stereotype and a put up and shut up attitude. Surely, we in the industry have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to those inheriting it to create a legacy and a working environment that sees, hears and values the person and not just the job role.

When we look back over the last fifty years construction has suffered both up's and down's, boom and bust. From the mid-1960s to the current day there has been a continuing increase in deindustrialization, which will continue to challenge the construction industry. Building methods have changed, technology has changed, the workforce has changed, but predominantly the attitude towards mental wellbeing in construction hasn’t. Surely now is the time for a culture change.

I know the stress, suffering and hardship those individuals working in construction during the down times went through, I was one of them. I lost friends to suicide and saw the impact it had on their families and friends. What support was there for them? And I can understand how those circumstances created and shaped our current culture and working practices of today.

So, what do we need to learn from history?
Well, in 2017 we have to understand that if we only focus on job roles and productivity without supporting the inner wellbeing of the individual, we will continue in creating an undervalued and unsupported workforce and an industry where you’re only as good as your last job.

What is self-awareness and mindfulness all about?
We want to do this because it will create a better industry a bigger industry, make it a place where people want to come to work because they feel supported, feel seen heard and valued. Lets' all create a better work-life balance and understand the positives that creates by looking after each other together.

Benefits of Mindfulness
If we continue to create an ever more stressful working environment that people survive in rather than thrive in, will not encourage new people into the industry and stop skilled people leaving. Either leaving voluntarily, because of the pressure, a breakdown or even worse suicide. The job role has to include the whole person, of course there are going to be challenges and stressful days, stressful weeks but what is most important is how we manage those times? Traditionally the industry hasn’t given enough support or been given enough in way of support to make a real difference. But, this is changing. There are those within the industry that are taking on the responsibility of creating and providing support.

Mindfulness and Self awareness are the foundations to build on, to meet the challenging experiences both in our personal and professional lives. The word 'Mindful' in Latin is a derivative from 'memor'. Which is a theory on 'man being more' grateful thankful thoughtful. The word self-awareness is a derivative ‘conscientia’. So your conscience or knowledge, or remorse, is key factors to becoming self aware

Contributor: Andy Dean heads up BS2B a not-for-profit training organisation, founded by builders, company owners, developers and therapists with a combined experience of 130 years in construction. This gives BS2B an expert understanding of the industry’s language, challenges and needs. BS2B run an online Self-Awareness Course which focuses on promoting mental health through Inner Wellbeing tailored to the industry.