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In December, we published our preliminary findings from our major study of the mental health of self-employed construction workers and those working in small firms which showed that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance and Covid-19 pressures on the supply of materials are combining to significantly raise stress and anxiety levels. 

The report that was developed in partnership with The Institute of Employment Studies (IES) and funded by a research grant from B&CE Charitable Trust investigates both the extent of mental health problems in this important workforce and the extent to which new, more accessible, forms of support and guidance on mental wellbeing can be offered to individuals experiencing distress, depression, or anxiety.

We are now publishing our full findings of the report, which includes a small number of follow-up interviews with survey respondents exploring the drivers of mental health, sources of work pressure, distress and anxiety, their coping mechanisms and factors which trigger help-seeking behaviour. We also explored the best ways to provide support for those experiencing mental health problems.

The report has presented some enlightening information that the industry is sure to find both revealing and important.

"I’ve always thought that, even though this job is hard, you had to show that you can cope with the pressure and never admit that you’re struggling a bit. You don’t want people to think you’re a bit ‘flaky’ or that you can’t be relied on. So you keep quiet and soldier on, don’t you?"

Overall, almost a third of our respondents had a GAD7 anxiety score which signifies ‘severe’ anxiety, with a further third in the ‘moderate’ anxiety category and the remainder in the ‘mild’ anxiety group.

Almost half of our respondents reported that they found ‘talking about my mental health extremely difficult’ and almost 70 per cent agreed that ‘that there is a stigma about mental health which stops people from talking about it’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most respondents were happier to talk to family members or friends about their mental health, compared with either colleagues or GPs, for example.

Interestingly, those respondents with ‘severe’ anxiety also reported a significantly lower willingness to both seek help and to provide it to others.

There are five areas which respondents reported were contributing relatively frequently to feelings of stress, anxiety or low mood. These were:

  • I worry that my workload is too high (42% experiencing this frequently);
  • I feel low because of my business partners/colleagues (37%);
  • I feel low because of pressure at work (35%);
  • I feel anxious about family or relationship problems (33%); and
  • I feel stressed by financial problems or debt (32%).

"I sometimes see leaflets or adverts about mental health, but I always think that they’re for other people and not me. It’s taken me a while to accept that I sometimes struggle with my anxiety, but I don’t think of myself as ill enough to need help from a doctor or whatever. I was brought up not to make a fuss and to just get on with things, which is probably not the right thing to do nowadays, is it?"

The survey highlighted both the high prevalence of ‘severe’ and ‘moderate’ anxiety in this population of self-employed construction workers and the multiple barriers they face in speaking about and seeking support for their wellbeing. Underpinning these findings are a number of sub-themes which need to be acknowledged and addressed by those working to improve mental health outcomes for these workers:

  1. The most trusted and frequently accessed sources of support are family and friends, with significantly less trust being placed in formal and expert sources of advice, guidance or treatment.
  2. A significant minority of respondents reported that they had taken non-prescription drugs as a result of their anxiety (16%) and 13 per cent told us that they had considered self-harm.

    One concern from our data is that only a minority of respondents had sought help from their GP (18%) and only 13 per cent had received counselling or therapy.

  3. Stigma and self-stigma relating to mental illness is strong in this group, as is the notion that improving resilience and coping, is preferable to treatment or support.
  4. GPs are not favoured as a source of support by this population. This could be a reflection of the challenges being experienced in primary care as a result of Covid-19 and other factors, or it could be that this cohort of predominantly male construction workers are reluctant to talk to medical professionals about issues about which they are sensitive or even ashamed.

Mates in Mind will be growing its bursary fund through donations and fundraising to provide pro bono support to be able to help SMEs and sole traders in their path to creating supportive and proactive workplaces, where mental health is openly discussed and not feared. Its aim is to ensure workplaces are an arena where conversations are entered into out of care and concern and where a positive environment is embraced by all, regardless of their position or employment status. Part of this support will include access to independent counsellors and entry to an SME specific resource area on the Mates in Mind website, covering a range of topics that the survey respondents felt were key areas of stress and providing practical advice on where changes could be considered.

To read the full report, please click the link below.

Read the Full Report


To find out how you can make a difference to the construction industry in light of these findings, click here to request a callback and we'll be in touch.

Request a callback

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