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Reprinted from Placemakers – Under Construction (April)

A recent study conducted by BRANZ has shed light on mental health issues within the construction industry, offering some important insights to help tackle the issue 

At 6.9%, the proportion of suicides in the New Zealand construction industry stands as the highest across all other sector in the country.

Despite a mixed reaction from interviewees being surprised or not surprised at the rate of suicides, nearly all were unaware that the construction sector had the highest percentage of all industries.

What’s fuelling the numbers?

Workplace culture, boom and bust trends, and communication issues were just some of the areas construction workers reported as causing mental distress, as reported by industry workers.

A culture that stigmatises mental illness and promotes a ‘harden up’ attitude were also common themes raised by respondents.

A staunch workplace culture was attributed to making it difficult for workmates to have a conversation about sensitive topics such as mental health, therefore making it harder to suggest places to get help.

Another workplace culture concern frequently mentioned by interviewees was bullying. However, there was a common understanding that there were improvements being made in that area, with tolerance for such behaviour decreasing.

The boom and bust nature of the industry was also said to be causing distress for employers and employees alike. Interestingly, the boom period was said by some to be the more mentally distressing period, due to an abundance of work opportunities and insufficient labourers resulting in long hours, fatigue and poor work/life balance.

Intergenerational differences in communication was also a source of tension, with some describing how older workers would harass apprentices as part of a ritualised initiation.

On the other end, older workers believed younger workers were more sensitive and required a supportive approach when giving feedback. Such disconnect between generations can lead to interpersonal conflicts and additional stress at work.

Other factors believed to create mental distress in the construction sector were drug and alcohol use, pressures created by better-informed customers, intolerance of diversity, and high-risk individuals in the industry.

The impact on the industry

Interviewees agreed that mental distress in the workplace had a negative impact on health and safety in general, with the phenomenon of ‘presenteeism’ inviting more risks. Presenteeism involves workers turning up mentally or physically unwell, so distractions and lethargy that accompany mental distress are more likely to contribute to an accident or near miss in the workplace.

These effects on a worker’s ability to perform at their best results in lower productivity and increasing costs, reinforcing a vicious cycle of pressure and stress.

Men needed for research 

A Massey University study is looking at some of the things that stop men within the construction industry seeking help for mental health issues. The study is also investigating men’s preferences for seeking help for mental health issues from different sources.

Andy Walmsley, who is studying towards his doctorate in clinical psychology at Massey University, is conducting the research. He needs volunteers to take part in an anonymous, online survey, which will help deepen understanding of men’s mental health in the construction industry and in turn aid suicide prevention research within the sector.

The survey takes between 10-15 minutes to fill out and each person goes into the draw to receive one of 50 $40 Mitre 10 store vouchers as a thank you for your time and for helping.

Click hereto learn more and to start the survey.

If you have any questions, please contact Andy Walmsley at Massey University Wellington at: walmsley_a@hotmail.com