Mental wellness for construction professionals

The construction industry is grappling with a growing mental health crisis, with research suggesting that around 97% of workers are experiencing stress and 26% have had harmful thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s not an issue that’s talked about as often as it should be, so it can be hard to know where to turn to for advice if you aren’t feeling your best.

We’ve worked with the Health in Construction Leadership Group to come up with some simple guidance which may help you better understand the pressures you’re facing, spot the warning signs earlier, and give you ideas on how to protect your mental health.

Key pressures

Firstly, let’s look at some reasons why you might be feeling the pressure as someone working in construction:

Lack of sleep

One of the biggest factors is a lack of sleep or difficulty maintaining a regular sleep cycle. This can have a negative impact on your mood, which increases over time. Our bodies and brains need sleep to function properly, so regular early starts, late nights and irregular sleeping hours may start affect your mental health. 

Too much time alone

Working alone common for construction workers, particularly on smaller sites. But too much time on your own can be a trigger for mental health fatigue. You might end up travelling a lot and being separated from friends and family throughout the year, and this can make you feel isolated, even if you don’t realise it at the time.

Financial concerns

Financial worries can be incredibly stressful. With household bills going up, irregular pay and uncertainty around your pipeline of work there are lot of reasons why money worries might add to the pressure you’re feeling.

Not always making the right choices

Physical and mental health are very much linked, and it’s sometimes hard to keep away from unhealthy snacks or food from site canteens with a limited menu. Sometimes when you’re tired you just feel like all that will keep you going is a sugar or caffeine boost but over time these can impact the way you feel. If you’re working irregular hours, it may also be more of a challenge to find the time for an exercise routine or gym class, but it’s so important to prioritise these when you can. Even taking the time for a quick walk at lunchtime makes all the difference.

Signs of mental fatigue

It is important to look after yourself when external factors like those above impact your mental health. It all starts by recognising when something isn’t right, and when you may need some help. There are a few tell-tale signs that your mental health may be suffering:

Becoming withdrawn

This includes not wanting to talk to or be around people. We all like a bit of downtime, but wishing to be alone more than usual or not joining in with conversations or activities you would have previously enjoyed, can be a sign that something is wrong.

Finding it harder to cope

If you’re under too much pressure, you may find yourself not being able to cope with everyday scenarios or small issues that previously wouldn’t have bothered you. Small tasks can feel overwhelming, negative thoughts may linger, and you may find yourself distracted by these too often.

Lack of enjoyment

When you’re suffering from fatigue, you may be less interested in hobbies or activities you used to enjoy in your personal life. This can add the cycle of low mood and worry, while also leading to less exercise and more isolation.

 

Things you can do to help

Plan your diet

Eating a balanced diet is all about planning. Bring a healthy packed lunch to work so you can avoid that lunchtime takeaway or fry up from the canteen. When you’re doing your weekly shop, think about the food that’s going to give you the nutrition you need to get through the working day. Water is also incredibly important for brain activity, so try to have at least two litres a day. A glass of water when you wake up and when you go to bed should also help with rational thinking over time.

Prioritise Sleep

Aim for 7 – 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep each night. This might take some planning and a few early nights if you’re on site early in the morning, but it will be worth it for the benefits to your mental health. Remember, a higher screen time can impact the quality of your sleep, so try and limit how much you’re on your phone, especially just before bed.

Plan ahead financially

Budgeting and planning ahead can help you get a grip on your finances and feel more in control. There are online resources available to help you manage increased living costs, such as Step Change which provides free financial advice or, the Citizens Advice website, which has a host of information.

Reach out for help

The most important thing to do is to know you’re not alone. Talking to family or friends, or reaching out to organisations who deal with these issues every day is the best thing you can do.

Mates in Mind specialise in promoting better mental health in the construction sector. Their website has a wealth of information on how you can access help from professionals and organisations who can provide emotional support. Check out the resources available, at www.matesinmind.org.