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Why building mental health awareness is important for the construction industry?

By Jonathan Oppenheim and Erin Young | August 2, 2023

Managing mental health in the construction industry begins with understanding and awareness.
Employee Engagement |Work Transformation|Inclusion-and-Diversity|Property Risk and Insurance Solutions|Employee Experience|Benessere integrato

Understanding what mental health is and the impact it has on all different facets of wellbeing is crucial for construction organizations and their employees.

In recent times, the construction industry has made some incredible advances in protecting the industry's workforce from physical harm. However, traditional industry loss control and safety efforts focus nearly entirely on physical loss and greatly ignore mental health and wellness. There is a need to look at worker's health and safety more holistically, by addressing not only physical welfare but mental and emotional wellbeing as well. Ultimately, mental health affects worker’s safety.

When you think about it, the mind drives the activity of the body. To work safely, people need to be mindful of what they're doing. And that's part of the conversation on mental health in the construction industry and beyond.”

Jonathan Oppenheim | Southeast Regional Construction Leader, North America

Even if no actual illness is diagnosed, it's easy to imagine how employee’s mental state might affect their ability to make good decisions and recognize potential hazards. When you think about it, the mind drives the activity of the body. To work safely, people need to be mindful of what they're doing. And that's part of the conversation on mental health in the construction industry and beyond.

It's paramount to differentiate mental health from mental illness. Mental health is something that truly impacts all of us. So oftentimes, we focus on words or diagnoses like depression or anxiety. Mental health refers to a state of successful balance under times of stress or pressure or in challenging circumstances. Now, mental illness, on the other hand, is a biological disruption. And it's a disruption in brain functioning that is persistent. And in some cases, it may be really severe for some people.

60% nearly 60%, of construction workers suffer from a mental health issue during their career

From a construction industry perspective, we know that more than half, nearly 60%, of construction workers suffer from a mental health issue during their career. We also know that construction ranks number one of any industry in alcohol abuse and opioid misuse. And some of the most staggering statistics are around fatalities. With all the progress that we made, protecting workers from physical harm, we still lose approximately 10 per 100,000 of the workforces to job-site fatalities every year.

Tragically, the suicide rate in construction is among the highest of any industry. We lose more than five times the number of workers by suicide annually than job-site accidents. Suicide in the US is one of the top 10 leading causes of death. And it accounts for more than one in every 100 deaths worldwide. We're seeing a high rate of suicides that are preventable. The approach that we should really take is that every suicide death is something that we can prevent.

Investing in employee’s wellbeing is something that should be top of mind for all organizations across the industry. This investment would mean the employees will bring that additional health back to the job in the form of increased productivity, decreased injury and illness risk, decreased health care spending, and more engagement at their work. The World Health Organization estimates that companies see a $4 return in improved health and productivity for every $1.

Three in five employees report that their anxiety or depression are going untreated. And when mental health concerns and mental illness go untreated, that results in higher rates of disability, higher rates of ultimately unemployment. And these trends are showing us that mental health is going to likely be one of the top short-term disability conditions in the coming years. We see higher rates of smoking; higher rates of alcohol and substance use disorder when people are suffering from anxiety and depression. And so, all this ties together into this holistic picture of how are we thinking about mental health.

There is not just one thing that you can do around mental health. It's really a multifaceted approach to addressing it. And in some cases, and especially in an industry such as the construction industry that has a rich history of stereotypes, it's going to take time to begin to break down those barriers.

Awareness means education, educating people transparently with good, evidence-based, and clinically-sound information that is available for people to digest and take in at their own pace. Those are small and bit-sized chunks, but they're not overwhelming. There is some level of training that needs to take place. We need to train our workforces, our leaders, and our managers to be aware of what those mental health signs and symptoms look like, how to respond in cases of crisis, but also maybe in cases of concern. But there's many warning signs that oftentimes lead up to that. And early intervention and that preventative care is so important in getting the message out and getting people comfortable around decreasing the stigma with mental health.

You can listen to the full Mental Wellbeing in the Construction industry episode of our Construction Blueprints podcast series for the full conversation.


The statistics and numbers quoted in this article are from US studies and sources, they may vary globally.

WTW offers insurance-related services through its appropriately licensed and authorised companies in each country in WTW operates. For further authorisation and regulatory details about our WTW legal entities, operating in your country, please refer to our WTW website. It is a regulatory requirement for us to consider our local licensing requirements.


Southeast Regional Construction Leader, North America
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Senior Director, Health, Equity & Wellbeing, WTW
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