Fred Mills and Sasha Reed tell us why it is time to get construction talking about mental health

January 26, 2024 | 5 min read

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How big and how far reaching is the mental health crisis in the construction industry?

This is the question Dr Graham Kelly asked Fred Mills and Sasha Reed in their recent conversation about mental health and wellbeing in construction.

In a new series of the BIM Academy Digital Climate podcast, host Graham wanted to bring a new wave of thinking to the podcasts: one that placed human need at the heart of the construction process.

Managing mental health in the construction industry begins with understanding and awareness. Understanding of what mental health is and the impact it has on all different facets of wellbeing is crucial for organisations and their employees.

Fred told Graham that on average, two construction workers take their own lives every day just in the UK, and that statistic is very similar, if not worse, in Australia and New Zealand. But in the US, people are five times more likely to die by suicide if they work in the construction industry than in any other sector. And, being frank about it, they’re just the markets where we have the data for! It’s shocking. If it was happening in terms of physical deaths on sites, there would be outrage and sites to be shut down.

Fred referred to these statistics as a crisis, calling it an industry pandemic, noting that there are people dying from this issue daily in our sector and enough is enough – we need to change it.

Fred is the Founder of The B1M, the world’s largest, most subscribed to video channel for construction with over 3 million YouTube subscribers and 24 million viewers each month and in 2023, founded Get Construction Talking: a global mental health initiative.

When Fred began thinking about the mental health crisis in construction, he knew there was a need to escalate this and invited Procore to partner on the campaign to support with a global rollout.

Sasha Reed is a Senior Director of Industry Transformation at Procore – a construction management platform that looks at project life cycle from end to end – and is leading on the Get Construction Talking initiative for Procore. With over 20 years of experience in construction and technology, Sasha is known industry wide as a “conversation facilitator” and has been instrumental in getting construction talking.

In her own words, we are trying to build a community of what we call ground breakers, who are individuals breaking new ground within construction as it relates to technology, and we do that through a connected global construction platform that is bringing all stakeholders together.

The Get Construction Talking Campaign actually folds very nicely into that technological change as well as cultural change. So, when Fred originally approached Procore about partnering together to have a global conversation around mental health and construction it very much aligned with Procore’s ethos.

Graham began the podcast by asking Fred and Sasha, in construction, balancing high performance with employee wellbeing is crucial. Stress, often stemming from intense pressure, can significantly impact mental health, yet the industry can be highly rewarding for many. Considering the importance of empathy in leadership, how crucial is it for employers to acknowledge these mental health struggles and ensure their teams feel valued and supported, thereby attracting and retaining talent?

Sasha responded that we’re currently in a turbulent period of transition which requires significant consideration of the scale of change in order to identify these new horizons where transformation and innovation needs to take place. And I think we’re equally in the same position when we look at the human impact of where we are as an industry. There is a high level of burnout that that is occurring now in industry, and this directly has an impact on mental health.

Sasha added that humans are still the ones bridging, current state and future state, with their time, their mental energy and capacity in the field as well as in the office. And so, she thinks that having a conversation around mental health, or indeed conversations, in the workplace is very relevant.

Fred added that mental health has never been better understood than it is today. Awareness generally across society has never been better, certainly, in the UK and he believes that this has created an open door to raise awareness and start to tackle the mental health crisis in construction and further afield. Fred said it is critical that leaders, acknowledge that this is an issue, acknowledge that they themselves are human, and that this is something we all face, regardless of how experienced we are or what professional level of development we are at.

Graham continues to ask what key factors are contributing to mental health challenges in construction and looking ahead, what are the next steps in ensuring that mental health and welfare receive as much attention and care as physical safety in the construction industry?

As part of their initiative, they have developed a “Get Construction Talking Toolkit” that provides a deeper look at the actions leaders and individuals can take, the warning signs to look out for when someone may be struggling, and the resources and tools available to bolster existing health and safety programmes.

Listen to the full podcast with Fred and Sasha as Fred touches upon his own mental health struggles and what drives them both in their efforts to tackle the mental health crisis in the construction industry and more key pointers on how to identify and assist those struggling with mental ill health.

Listen now