photo of construction worker dealing with a mental health crisis

The Invisible Construction Crisis: Strategies to Address Mental Wellbeing

Cal Beyer
Cal Beyer
Holmes Murphy

Many construction companies have yet to incorporate mental health, substance use, addiction recovery, and suicide prevention into safety, health, and wellness culture and programs. A major reason for this gap is due to stigma.

Stigma is a fear of the unknown. Stigma is looking down on someone as lesser because of a trait or condition that someone else does not understand.

Stigma for mental health conditions runs high, and access to behavioral health services is low in the construction industry and among trades workers. This is typical for male-dominated industries characterized by “rough and tough” cultures. There are many reasons for this mental health stigma, including:

  • Many families did not talk about it, and therefore, there isn’t a lot of familiarity or comfort talking about these topics at work.
  • Mental wellbeing is viewed as personal, and family matters historically haven’t been something talked about at work.
  • There are concerns about violating employee rights of privacy, confidentiality, and HIPPA compliance.
  • There are few requests for accommodations for mental wellbeing or behavioral health conditions.
  • There is no legal requirement or regulation requiring the topics to be addressed.
  • There has been no tradition of talking about mental wellbeing in safety and health.

When we talk about mental health and wellbeing and break down the stigma, we can better help people with existing conditions.

And, we can’t wait to start talking about mental wellbeing. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the average delay of onset of mental health conditions and treatment is 11 years.

Since 2009, I’ve been communicating and developing resources to help take on stigma and promote mental wellbeing in the construction industry. It’s why I was named to the Workplace Task Force of the National Action Alliance or Suicide Prevention in 2010. I launched the construction industry movement for mental health and suicide prevention in 2014. The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) was formed in October 2016 to help support my efforts. And, Engineering News-Record recognized me as a Top 25 Newsmaker for 2016 for my work with suicide prevention.

What Strategies Can Your Company Utilize?

So, how can your company incorporate mental wellbeing, substance use, addiction recovery, and suicide prevention into safety, health, and wellness programs? Glad you asked!

Here are 12 ways to address mental wellbeing with construction workers:

  1. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) — You can use workplace posters, wallet cards, or mail refrigerator magnets to employees’ homes.
  2. Workplace Posters — Make sure to include EAP, crisis hotlines, and suicide prevention in your posters.
  3. Company Newsletters/Blogs — In these items, include contact information for EAP and crisis hotlines.
  4. Hard Hat Stickers — On these, be sure to provide EAP and/or crisis hotline information.
  5. Wallet Cards — EAPs frequently share wallet cards or print them with crisis hotline numbers.
  6. New Hire Orientation Programs/Videos — Discuss your EAP and share wallet cards and hard hat stickers.
  7. Pre-meeting Safety Moments — Share focused safety moments on behavioral health topics and not just traditional safety topics.
  8. Toolbox Talks — This is an effective way to continue the dialogue and break down stigma at crew level.
  9. Safety Huddles — Use this as an opportunity to observe and ask employees if they are ready to work without distractions and allow a “safety timeout” if someone needs to refocus.
  10. Pre-Season or Pre-Project Safety Kick-Off Meetings — Reiterate “it is ok to not be ok” and what actions an employee can take if they need help for behavioral health conditions.
  11. Supervisory and Employee Training Sessions These types of sessions are effective for providing more information and to expand awareness.
  12. Safety Stand-Downs — Hold these as a way to boldly demonstrate leadership support by focusing everyone on the importance of this life-saving topic.

So, what are you waiting for?

Your employees and their families need your bold leadership, support, and encouragement. My favorite saying when I finish a mental wellbeing toolbox talk or training course is #StigmaSchmigma!

Join us as we continue this series next week, for the third in our “The Invisible Crisis” 4-part series every Wednesday through June 24. If you missed the first part, no worries! Just click here.

In the meantime (or at any time, for that matter), don’t hesitate to reach out to CSDZ or the CIASP. We’d love to talk with you about mental wellbeing and begin moving the construction industry in the direction of total wellbeing.

Explore more from Holmes Murphy