Why building mental health awareness is important for the construction industry 

by Dr Graham Kelly | January 19, 2024 | 5 min read

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

When it comes to safety, the construction industry has made some incredible advances in protecting the industry’s workforce from physical harm. However, traditional industry safety efforts focus nearly entirely on physical loss and greatly ignore mental health and wellbeing.

There is a need to look at worker’s health and safety more holistically, by addressing not only physical welfare but also mental and emotional wellness. Ultimately, mental health affects worker’s safety and this can no longer be ignored.

This is a topic we will be discussing in our next Digital Climate podcast series, entitled: Why building mental health awareness is important for the construction industry which will be released in the coming weeks.

In this series we will be discussing wellbeing and mental health awareness within the construction industry with a wide ranging group of guests from industry and beyond. Those at the very heart of supporting people with their mental health and wellbeing as well as those who are personally affected by mental health concerns.

We aim to let anyone who struggles with life’s challenges know that they can get help anytime, and that no matter what they are experiencing, they are not alone.

A distressing fact is that mental health is a silent crisis within the construction industry, with male workers four times more likely to commit suicide than those in other industries. In 2023, the British Safety Council called poor mental health in construction the “silent epidemic”. Stating that suicide rates have also increased in recent years despite the growth in mental health support available.

Suicide statistics for England and Wales, published by the Office for National Statistics, show that 507 people working in the construction industry took their own lives in 2021. This is an increase from 483 in 2020. And of the 507 construction suicides in that year, 503 were male.

Over 80% of the construction workforce is male, with almost half of this workforce being comprised of self-employed, agency staff or on zero hour contracts, this means financial insecurity is a major factor for poor wellbeing – plus the pandemic added greater anxiety and burden.

In addition, construction technology is advancing at a greater rate then workers skills and understanding of how to implement such technology. This in itself is a major contributor to stress and pressure on industry workers.

There are many other trigger points that cause mental ill health such as safety, long hours, working to tight deadlines and managing budgets. In June 2022, the charity Mates in Mind published findings from its major study of the mental health of construction workers, with results showing that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work life balance and COVID 19 pressures on the supply of materials, combined to significantly raise stress and anxiety levels.

This mainly male workforce has long been known to contain workers who are reluctant to talk about their mental health. As employers we have a responsibility to safeguard our teams. In 2023, The B1M and Procore partnered to launch the campaign, Get Construction Talking and as part of the campaign they developed a toolkit for employers which includes advice and guidance such as signs to look out for in people who may be suffering with their mental health, tips for talking about mental health and how to take the next steps in getting construction talking. Supporting our workforce in this way makes them feel safe and that they belong so that they enjoy their work. 

As an industry we need to come together to eliminate mental health stigma. One in four people in the UK have some form of mental health concerns, and by simply having a conversation we can help ourselves and others by showing someone there’s no shame or stigma in talking about how they are feeling.

The first step towards improving mental health in the construction industry is to create awareness and through our podcasts we aim to bring greater awareness to a growing concern within our industry, and more importantly, signposting people to where they can get help and support whether that be by talking to someone at home, at work or charities such as Mates in Mind or Lighthouse.

For addition resource, PBC Magazine, recently released an article on key recourses to aid mental health in the construction industry, which lists many ways to source support, that article can be seen here.


About the author

Dr Graham Kelly

Managing Director, BIM Academy

Graham is responsible for leading strategy and implementation of digital transformation strategies specific to clients’ real needs. This goes beyond BIM: it is as much about the people as it is about the technology. He has over 10 years’ experience in construction and academia, also completing a PhD in early 2015.