Building Better Mental Health in the Construction Industry

September 2, 2020

In an industry where mental health issues are particularly acute, construction businesses are under even more pressure to address the challenges of their workforce during these unusual times. Not only are they concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’re also worried about how to support themselves and their families. They have likely seen loved ones faced with job loss, illness, and even death. They may be wary about coming to work, fearing an increased risk of infection.

Many blue-collar workers pride themselves on being tough, which prevents them from acknowledging their mental health and seeking help. Seasonal unemployment, long hours and exhaustion can also trigger mental health issues. Depression and anxiety often go undiagnosed and untreated, making the construction industry one of the occupations most at risk for suicide.

The suicide rate has surged 40 percent in the U.S. over less than two decades, with blue-collar workers at a significantly higher risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC analyzed suicide rates by industry and occupational groups by gender using data from the 32 states that participated in the 2016 National Violent Death Reporting system.

  • In 2017, nearly 38,000 people between the ages of 16 and 64 died by suicide in the U.S., according to the CDC. The overall suicide rate rose by 40% from 2000.
  • The total suicide rate among all men was 27.4 individuals per 100,000 people, but the rate among those in the construction field was 49.4 per 100,000.
  • For women, the suicide rate for the total population studied was 7.7 per 100,000 individuals. The suicide rate for women in construction, however, was 25.5 per 100,000 individuals—the highest among any profession.

Construction workers are exposed to a number of risks by the nature of their job. Adding in outside health risks may lead to work-related injuries. A study published recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that six health risk behaviors were more common in the construction industry.

  • Smoking
  • Smokeless tobacco use
  • Binge drinking
  • No leisure-time physical activity
  • Not always using a seatbelt
  • Getting less than seven hours of sleep a day

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