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In your words: The state of construction's mental health

More than 500 of the respondents to our Mind Matters survey shared their experiences. Their stories reveal the reality of industry attitudes to mental health.

We received more than 500 anonymous responses from people working in construction to the Mind Matters survey. The comments paint a stark picture of how mental health is treated in this industry.

This feedback has been invaluable to us in understanding the scale of the issue. Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out our survey.

Construction News has presented these shocking statistics, along with your insight, to the industry’s most senior leaders and made all of our Mind Matters content free to read and share online.

We will also send these results to the health secretary Jeremy Hunt and prime minister Theresa May.

Here, we give a voice to those who have struggled. The comments were from people of all seniorities, in all parts of the industry. Don’t let your colleagues and the industry’s workforce suffer in silence. We urgently need to discuss how to improve the industry’s mental health.

All of these comments are taken from CN’s Mind Matters survey, which was completed by 1,139 respondents between January and March of this year.

When line managers fail to provide support

“At my previous job for a larger contractor, I suffered with quite bad anxiety. While I was able to speak to some about my problems, my direct line manager was wholly unsupportive. They were even critical of my anxiety, which made me feel worse. I eventually left the business and made a formal complaint. I have found somewhere that is more understanding of such issues.”

“One job I was on a few years ago was so stressful that I couldn’t sleep at night. I broke down in tears a number of times. Although I completed the scheme, I left the company I worked for at that time. I could not get over the lack of support I had received from senior management.”

“My manager does not help me and expects me to have all the work done how he wants it done. This causes me great stress, I cannot sleep at night. I sometimes cry at work because of it and it’s very embarrassing. I really feel I have to hide it.”

“My managers and directors are male. They are completely uncomfortable discussing anything.”

“I heard the phrase ‘You’ll be ok, we are all stressed’ more times than I would like to recall”

“During a particularly difficult stage in my project, I came under extreme pressure from my line managers and directors. This put increased pressure on myself which led to me feeling unwell and extremely stressed. My line managers did not recognise that I was under such stress or suffering. They were relentless in piling on the pressure. I eventually informed my line manager, as I was getting to the point of feeling constantly emotional. Although he was sympathetic at the time, little or no support was given.”

“I have recently taken two weeks off due to the stress and pressure being placed on me daily in my job as a planner. I did make multiple attempts of making my mental state known over a six to eight-month period, but these pleas were ignored or brushed aside. I heard the phrase ‘You’ll be ok, we are all stressed’ more times than I would like to recall.”

“My line manager and those above take the view that if you are not up to the job for any reason then you need to be replaced.”

“I experience extreme stress on a day-to-day basis. This is not made any better by management: just when you think you are doing OK they find a way to knock you back down. I would love to talk to someone but I feel questions would be raised about my attendance. I would also not be allowed to do overtime if I had time off.”

“I didn’t seek support from my company. I found some of my colleagues’ approaches to [the] mental health problems [of] others to be seriously short of acceptable.”

“Ask an employer how they monitor staff wellbeing: there’ll be some loose, ambivalent, vague answer”

“High levels of stress are mainly caused by line and senior managers through their unrealistic demands, lack of support and very poor people management.”

“Employers are often the source of workplace-related stress, placing unreasonable and unrelenting demands on staff and offering little by way of support. Ask an employer how they monitor staff wellbeing and living up to business values: there’ll be some loose, ambivalent, vague answer.”

“Last week we had an article sent around saying that mental strength was required to be successful. No thought was given to how this might register with those with anxiety or depression.”

“I believe managers and colleagues are not well equipped to identify or manage work-related stress or mental health issues. It is seen as a sign of weakness.”

Impact of stigma

“I have witnessed a number of people suffering from mental illness in the workplace. These people suffered from nervous breakdowns from being worked too hard. Everything was kept hush hush as mental illness is seen as a taboo subject – something to be embarrassed of instead of a serious medical condition that needed treating as with any other physical illness.”

“I fear developing a bad reputation or being seen as unfit to work due to stigma”

“I strongly believe that mental health is discriminated against in the workplace.”

“Although people are often very understanding of mental health issues on the surface, it can feel embarrassing. This is especially true if panic / anxiety manifests itself in unusual ways that might make me seem a little bit odd.”

“The stigma surrounding suicide means I feel as though any issues I raise are assumed to be an overdramatisaton of my situation.”

“I don’t feel comfortable talking to colleagues. I don’t feel I can talk to anyone within work.”

“My concern is that disclosing too much information regarding my mental health would stall my career and permanently hinder my reputation”

“Suicide is not talked about. It is seen as a sign of weakness.”

“I fear developing a bad reputation or being seen as unfit to work due to stigma.”

“I’m a young, aspiring manager within my organisation and people have high expectations of me. My concern is that disclosing too much information regarding my mental health challenges during particularly tough times would stall my career and permanently hinder my reputation.”

“I wouldn’t know how to broach the subject. I wouldn’t want people to think differently of me after having spoken of it.”

Nature of the industry

“This industry is relentless. Everyone is working under stress day in day out. While people can cope generally with short periods of stress, it’s the relentlessness that grinds you down over time. 

“The early start and late finish is still seen as the mark of a good worker. In reality, doing these long days reduces the ability to be productive”

“Generally, being stressed out [in] our industry is considered to be the norm. There is a perception that if you are not stressed, you are not busy enough.”

“The industry works on small margins. The pressure to find work that makes money causes a lot of stress. Where projects are not making money the pressure on those involved is very high.”

“I work away and a lot of the time I work on my own. This means I have no social interaction with any ‘friendly’ faces throughout the week at work. If there is an issue there is no one for me to turn to for help. This can add to the stress. I have battled many demons in my time.”

“I was driven almost to the brink with stress and anxiety largely through financial pressures caused by customers not paying on time”

“Long days at work with long daily commute at each end by car lead to fatigue and stress. In construction, the early start and late finish is still seen as the mark of a good worker. In reality, doing these long days reduces the ability to be productive and opens up the opportunity to make mistakes.”

“I was driven almost to the brink with stress and anxiety largely through financial pressures caused by customers not paying on time.”

“A few years ago I had a major nervous breakdown after fighting to get monies owed from some very unscrupulous main contractors. I had a year of this and it brought us to our knees. In the end my body simply could not deal with it anymore. There must be so many others out there who have suffered like this. I never want to go there again.”

“There is too much emphasis in the workplace on ‘more’. People are not machines and can break down easily. We need to take care of people.”

Struggles dealing with suicide

“An ex-colleague took his [own life] but his employer knew for some time that he had mental health issues. However, he treated him as if he was being silly. His line manager was aware of the issue but chose to sweep it under the carpet.”

“I had an apprentice who took his own life. My line manager wasn’t particularly helpful nor was any support given to the other apprentices or myself.”

“I have considered suicide. I thought it was my fault for not being able to cope and that it might be a reason for them to get rid of me.”

What can you do to help?

“Never underestimate the value of listening and being a confidential source. A close friend and colleague who has considered suicide once told me, ‘You don’t appreciate the difference you have made in listening and letting me talk about how I feel. It may be what has prevented me from trying to take my own life so far’.”

“The company I work for runs a confidential helpline. I was put in touch with a one-on-one counsellor, who has made a massive difference. When I told my line management about my issues, I was amazed to find so many other people in the company, many of them senior management, happy to talk about their own experiences. Five years later and I’m still okay.”

“One of our directors took his own life. The company are very aware of mental health issues and give employees a lot of support. We also support and promote a mental health charity.”

“Attempts are being made from various organisations and movements to bring mental health awareness further into the public domain.”

“In my experience, my company has dealt with mental health issues very well through reducing workload, arranging for counselling and permitting time away from work.”

“I am fortunate to work for a company that has always been very caring about its workforce. The recent work many of us have been doing to promote mental health awareness has raised the bar and is getting people talking. Managers are attending mental health awareness courses and most, if not all, do genuinely care about their teams.”

“I would prefer companies to train managers to recognise the issues in their staff before they become a problem rather than waiting until someone has a breakdown before stepping in.”

“My line manager once spotted I was experiencing a low period in my life. They had a quiet chat with me and asked what they could do to help. I will never forget how supported I felt during that moment and beyond.”

“I am trained as a mental health first aider and I have put my training into practice more in the last 12 months than ever before.”

“I experienced work-related stress due to workload and took some time off. My line manager could see the signs of stress can we came up with a plan to recruit an assistance to help with workload. My workload is monitored and I know I can discuss stress with my manager at any time.”

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