Mental illness isn’t selective or choosy in its selection process. So, with cases of mental illness becoming more prevalent across society generally, it’s fair to assume that within each industry sector, figures will reflect this.

The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) carried out a survey at their recent conference and the results were certainly eye opening. The results of the survey found that –

  • 64% said they are suffering from stress
  • 76% said they had at some point suffered stress in the workplace
  • 30% of respondents have taken time off work due to stress
  • of those, 93% did not tell UCATT about it

When it came to mental illness specifically the results were also significant. 35% of those who responded said that they were suffering from or had suffered from a mental illness. Of those 44% had taken time off due to their symptoms, but 75% had not raised the issue with management. 57% claimed that their workplace had no interest in their mental health.

Breaking the taboo

There’s no doubt that mental illness is not the taboo subject it once was but there’s still a long way to go. A survey such as the one taken by UCATT is a positive step but is only the tip of the iceberg. Employers must recognise the level of the problem and identify the areas in which they can actively help employees.

Specifically, depression and anxiety are arguably the mental illness issues that cause most anguish and can be the toughest to confront for an individual, particularly if it’s the first time they have come up against them.

The truth is that both depression and anxiety are extremely common in society and once you begin to talk about it, you’re surprised at just how many people you know well have encountered either or both. And, you probably never knew. Perhaps the most important point to make is that both forms of mental illness are treatable, with extremely good levels of success.

Addressing the issues

Although mental illness is not necessarily caused by work issues alone, there’s no doubt it can be a major factor. For those working in construction, with its patterns of long working hours and strict deadlines, stress and ultimately anxiety or depression can be a very real adversary. Historically it is also a very male dominated industry and with men statistically less likely than women to even discuss their problems there’s still much work to be done.

So, how can managers and foremen begin to address issues of anxiety in the workplace? Management standards issued by the HSE cover six key areas –

  • Demands – Workload, work patterns and work environment
  • Control – How much say an individual has in the way they do their work
  • Support – Encouragement and resources provided by each organisation
  • Relationships – Promoting positive working to avoid conflict and unacceptable behavior
  • Role – Workers should understand their role and the company should ensure roles should not be conflicted
  • Change – Manage and communicate any organisational change as well as possible

A time for change

Construction, like every other industry must take mental illness seriously. Many of the old, outdated stereotypes need to be swept away, especially if, as the sector needs, the brightest young talent is to be enticed into it. Communication is key going forward as the next step for those suffering from anxiety and depression can be particularly dark and chilling.