Swapping Hard Hats for Hard Chats

THE LARGEST EVENT in the history of the UK construction industry to address mental health issues in the sector is taking place as part of UK Construction Week (UKCW).

The focus on mental health and wellbeing at this year’s show is in response to the latest research which paints a picture of an industry that desperately wants more mental health support.

The survey for UKCW revealed that over half of people in the construction industry have suffered mental health problems at some point in their lives.

6 out of 10 people (58%) working in construction have suffered from mental health problems due to their work, most often stemming from financial issues (45%), long hours (41%) and the physical strain of the job (41%). Despite this, only 4 out of 10 (44%) have actually spoken out about it at work – and this figure rises to 71% for those aged over 55.

Time off

Over a third of respondents (37%) admitted that they had taken time off at work due to their mental health, with only 64% of those telling their employer the reason why. The problem is particularly acute among the 18-34 age group.

When asked who they would turn to if they were to experience any mental health issues, most construction professionals felt they would be most comfortable talking to a dedicated mental healthcare professional (30%), followed by someone who they get on well with at work (27%). A chat with a friend is considered the most effective mood-booster for a bad day at work, according to respondents (50%), followed by music (46%), exercise (38%) and food (32%).

Support for mental health

However, most importantly, over half of all respondents (56%) felt there was more their organisations could be doing to support the mental health of workers. Of the support services that they thought would be most beneficial, top of the list was free counselling (39%) or flexible working (39%), followed by a dedicated trained person to speak to (35%), an on-site quiet space (27%), and an anonymous helpline (24%).

Interestingly, there were differences between men and women in the industry about what was needed most.  Women are more likely to prefer allocated wellbeing days (30% vs 17%), an on-site quiet space (34% vs 24%), and flexible working (52% vs 35%) when it comes to tackling their mental health at work. Men are more likely to prefer anonymous helplines (26% vs 21%).

Some of these support services are provided by the mental health charities working in the construction industry, including Mates in Mind and the Lighthouse Club’s Construction Industry Helpline.

Nathan Garnett, UKCW event director

Nathan Garnett, event director at UK Construction Week, said, “Awareness about the importance of mental health has grown throughout the construction industry in recent years. However, the industry still has a way to go in normalising open discussion about this aspect of health and wellbeing.

“That’s why we put together the Wellbeing Zone at this year’s UK Construction Week. We’re using the country’s largest construction event to host the industry’s biggest discussion and support initiative on mental health, swapping hard hats for hard chats.

“Through signposting to counselling, free employer advice and the simple sharing of stories, right through to yoga and meditation sessions, exercise and sporting challenges, this year’s UK Construction Week is designed to help as many people as possible, culminating on Thursday 10 October to celebrate World Mental Health Day.”

Wellbeing features at UK Construction Week include:

  • An installation of relaxing swings made by master craftsman Carwyn Jones, in a Wellbeing Zone full of advice and information on mental health support run in association with the NHS’s new Every Mind Matters initiative.
  • The launch of the Mind Your Head campaign, which features a ‘Material Support’ gallery, a collection of artwork made from construction components. There will be mental health experts who work in construction and practical advice available from an onsite therapist.
  • A multi-sports tournament and cup involving football, netball and touch rugby, organised with STEAM, a mental health charity which promotes wellbeing in construction through sport and exercise.
  • Free yoga and meditation sessions every morning of the show.
  • Free advice workshops for employers in the Working Well Together Theatre , including sessions on how to manage the issue of alcohol and drugs effectively in the workplace and mental health in the work place – an industry perspective.

UK Construction Week (UKCW) finishes on 10 October, which is World Mental Health Day, so the theme runs strongly throughout the three days.

UKCW is one event with many sections, including Build sponsored by Easy-Trim, Building TechCivilsEnergy and HVACSurface and Materials, and Timber. It also features Concrete Expo (8-9 October only) and Grand Designs Live (9-10 October only). Single registration gives free access to all areas of the show.

Last minute tickets are still available via the website.



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