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Mental health survey: Firms 'starting to break the stigma'

Tier ones are starting to “up their game” in addressing the industry’s mental health problem but more work needs to be done, according to Skanska UK CEO and president Gregor Craig.

CN’s latest research into the state of the industry’s mental health revealed that, while 67 per cent of the workforce said awareness of mental health had improved over the past year, little improvement has been made in key areas compared with last year’s findings.

Mr Craig said it was “not surprising” that the statistics had not changed overall and that “changing perceptions around mental health will take time”.

He said the key would be to break down the stigma around mental health in order to encourage more people to feel comfortable seeking help.

“We’re starting to break down the stigma of mental health slowly,” Mr Craig said. “Most of the tier one contractors have started to up the game in regards to mental health.”

He added: “It is important that tier one contractors really get it and do something about it, as that is the way improvement happens in the industry.”

This year’s statistics found that one in four construction workers had considered suicide (the same as in last year’s survey), while the proportion that had experienced mental health issues rose marginally to 57 per cent, compared with 55 per cent in 2017.

Furthermore, nearly a third (30 per cent) of respondents had taken time off work due to mental health issues (up marginally from 29 per cent).

Of these respondents, a greater proportion this year said they had hidden the real reason for their absence from their employer (63 per cent, up from 60 per cent).

North Midlands Group chief executive John Homer said increasing awareness and acknowledging mental health issues represented a hurdle the industry needed to overcome.

Mr Homer said the business had rolled out an initiative where workers who had suffered from mental health could volunteer to mentor others who may be currently experiencing mental health issues.

He said this had helped to “bring this issue out of the closet and reduce the taboo around acknowledging [mental health problems] exist”.

One of the highest proportions recorded in this year’s survey was of people who feel a stigma is attached to mental health, with 81 per cent agreeing this was the case (compared with 82 per cent last year).

An area of concern highlighted in this year’s survey was the mental health of those working at smaller companies employing fewer than 100 people.

Poor mental health is especially prevalent among these smaller firms, with 65 per cent of these respondents stating they had experienced mental health issues.

This has significantly higher than the 56 per cent recorded the previous year.

Furthermore, a high proportion of the industry’s younger workforce said they were struggling with poor mental health.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of graduates and junior members of staff said they had experienced mental health issues (up from 64 per cent last year).

While one in four workers across the industry had considered suicide, this rose to one in three (31 per cent) among the younger generation of workers.

The industry’s senior leaders have responded to this year’s mental health survey results, stating that more needs to be done to improve the mental health of construction workers.

Balfour Beatty health, safety, environment and sustainability director Heather Bryant, who is also a trustee of industry mental health charity Mates in Mind, said that, while it was “encouraging” that mental health awareness had improved, the results showed “how much more there is still to do”.

She added: “In providing training, knowledge and a safe environment to discuss mental health at work, we can remove the stigma around the topic.

“By doing this, we can work towards reducing the statistics highlighted within the survey.”

Commenting on the results, ISG chief Paul Cossell said: “Our industry’s focus on minimising risk on site demonstrates what can be achieved when we all work together, share best practice and collaborate to raise standards.

”We must put the same effort into ensuring parity for mental health awareness, because this is the right thing to do for our people, and for our wider industry, as we fight to attract and retain the most talented individuals to drive us forward.” 

More than 1,300 people across the industry filled out this year’s survey.

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