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June 3, 2022

Why is mental health such a concern for the construction industry?

The construction industry is among the highest in suicide rates around the world.

That statistic is from a 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control. And it’s one major reason why concern about mental health in the construction industry has grown.

Research shows that as many as 90% of all people who die by suicide have a mental health condition. While depression is the most common cause of suicide, other conditions such as substance use have an impact as well.

What is causing mental health conditions in the construction industry?

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97% of the U.S. construction industry is male—and men experience the highest rate of suicides.
  • While the suicide rate for women in construction is lower, it appears to be much higher than the suicide rate for the general female population.
  • Being “tough” and “strong” are qualities that are highly valued while acknowledging mental health concerns—or even seeking help—may be considered a sign of weakness.
  • There is fear of shame and judgment for admitting you have a problem.
  • Working in the industry can lead to chronic pain, which can result in substance disorders like opioid use.
  • Seasonal work can result in layoffs, which puts a strain on family relationships and finances.
  • The job is high-stress and the work is deadline-driven.
  • Employees work long hours, potentially resulting in fatigue.
  • There is potential you may be working away from home for extended periods.
  • You may have limited control over your job.
  • The pandemic has exacerbated every other problem while creating its own.

The most positive outcomes for mental health conditions come when people get help as early as possible. This is something that males, particularly those who consider themselves “tough” may find difficult, if not impossible, to do. So what kind of plan can a construction executive implement to support their mental health needs?

Start by creating, communicating, and continuing a plan.

Instead of dealing with the tragic aftermath of a mental illness crisis, learn the signs and be able to address the issue before it worsens.

1. Prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

  • Promote awareness of the problem as well as available solutions.
  • Integrate mental health services into new employee orientations.
  • Have providers on hand to answer questions about confidentiality, process, and outcomes.
  • Remind employees about mental health benefits at annual benefit renewal meetings.
  • Make it easy to access mental health services.
  • Make it a position of overall health and family well-being and improving job performance.
  • Post the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255, soon to be 988) in highly visible locations on the job site.
  • Be empathetic and connect individuals to appropriate support. 

2. Identify those who may be at risk.

  • Try to determine who might be having the most trouble.
  • Be attuned to when employees are experiencing the most stress.
  • Train supervisors and others on how to have difficult conversations.
  • Empower others to step in when someone appears overwhelmed or shows initial signs of mental health concerns.
  • Connect employees to support at the earliest possible stage.

3. Have a response plan for when crises may occur.

  • Work with employees to create a safety plan to help problems from escalating if they appear to be experiencing mental health issues.
  • Determine who should be included in the employee’s support team.
  • Ask what the employee thinks would be most helpful.
  • Ask if the employee wants union representatives as advocates in the process.
  • Review your policies regularly.
  • What if someone is having a significant mental health issue that requires medical leave?
  • Reduce access to guns or other lethal weapons when suicidal thoughts are evident.
  • Create a plan to provide extra support during economic downturns.
  • Layoffs and furloughs can be triggering events for people who are already vulnerable to suicide.
  • Provide effective and compassionate grief and trauma support after a suicide death.
  • Learn how to communicate after a suicide death with resources such as

Whatever you do, management has to demonstrate support.

Acknowledge that employees are experiencing overwhelming life challenges, mental health conditions, and substance disorders.

Assess your company’s readiness to deal with these issues.

Communicate often about the company’s priorities for mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

Reassure employees that they will receive your support if they reach out for help.

Provide access to training, evaluation, and mental health services.

Marsh McLennan Agency (MMA) can help you get started.

Excellent resources are already available, such as the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. MMA can help you determine which resources are best for your business. We have a Mental Health Tool Kit available for all employers. MMA can even help you design a plan that works for you, your employees and your construction business. To learn more, contact your MMA representative.