Mental health in the construction industry in Australia and New Zealand is a significant concern that has garnered increasing attention over recent years.
The construction industry, traditionally male-dominated, often fosters a culture where discussing mental health or expressing vulnerability is seen as a weakness. This culture can hinder open dialogue and support seeking, exacerbating mental health challenges.
The high rates of mental health issues and suicide among construction workers point to a need for comprehensive strategies and interventions.
The contractual nature of construction work often leads to job insecurity, which can be a significant source of stress and anxiety. Economic pressures, both at the individual and project levels, also contribute to mental health challenges.
The physically demanding aspect of construction work, coupled with concerns about workplace accidents and injuries, can lead to chronic stress and anxiety.
Workers also often spend long periods away from their families and communities, which can lead to feelings of isolation and detachment.
Workplace bullying and harassment including belittling or humiliating comments, victimization, spreading malicious rumours, practical jokes or initiation, and even exclusion from work-related events also negatively impact the mental health of construction workers.
These factors also lead to higher risks of substance abuse. A study ” Flying below the Radar: Psychoactive Drug Use among Young Male Construction Workers in Sydney, Australia.”  “found exceptionally, and unexpectedly high levels of cocaine use among male construction workers. Workers aged less than 35 years were particularly at-risk of illicit drug use and concurrent drug and risky alcohol use.”
Statistics on mental health in construction
Australian construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work, with young construction workers more than two times more likely to take their own lives than other young Australian men (source: Mates in Construction).
The construction industry in New Zealand loses nearly one person every week to suicide, with 99% of those lost being men. In Australia, the situation is equally concerning. The construction industry sees about 190 of its workers take their own lives each year, equating to the loss of a life every second day.
Mental health problems in the construction industry costs Australian businesses nearly $11 billion annually.
Efforts and Initiatives to improve mental health in construction
Both Australia and New Zealand have initiated campaigns to increase awareness about mental health in construction. These campaigns aim to educate workers and employers about the signs of mental health issues and the importance of seeking help.
Programs like MATES in Construction offer peer-to-peer support, which is crucial in breaking down barriers and stigma. These programs train workers to identify signs of mental distress in their colleagues and provide initial support and direction to professional help.
There’s an increasing emphasis on policies that support mental wellness in the workplace. This includes flexible work arrangements, access to mental health resources, and regular wellness checks.
Recognizing that leadership plays a critical role, there’s a focus on training managers and supervisors in mental health awareness. This training helps them to identify and appropriately respond to mental health issues among their teams.
Addressing mental health in construction requires a collaborative approach. This involves government bodies, industry associations, employers, and workers coming together to create a safer, more supportive industry culture.
Mates in Construction NZ and Ministry of Education partner up for suicide prevention
MATES in Construction and the Ministry of Education have collaborated to launch a program aimed at suicide prevention in the construction sector. This partnership is designed to provide a supportive work environment and encourage positive well-being in the industry.
This program is a significant step towards addressing the alarmingly high rates of suicide among construction workers based in New Zealand. It focuses on providing on-site training and support, including educational workshops and seminars to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. These sessions are tailored to construction workers’ unique challenges, offering practical advice and support.
Field officers will be enlisted to school construction sites to lead general mental health and well-being education sessions for on-site workers. They will also train and guide volunteers who want to promote a healthier workplace and offer support.
This partnership is a crucial step in creating a safer, more supportive work environment where workers can openly discuss mental health issues and seek help without fear of stigma.
Click here to read more about the partnership.
Mental Wellness Training Programs
Mental health training programs are essential for the construction industry as they equip workers with the tools to navigate high demands and stressors. Construction workers in Australia are six times more likely to die from suicide, with young apprentices and workers two times more likely to take their own lives than other men.
By understanding mental health issues, workers can recognise signs of distress in their coworkers. This enables them to support and guide those struggling, creating a culture where individuals feel comfortable seeking help. Knowing how to approach someone, listen empathetically, and provide information about available resources can help a coworker navigate difficult times.
MATES in Construction offers several training programs aimed at improving mental health and preventing suicide in the construction industry across Australia and New Zealand. It is designed to promote open conversations about mental health, create awareness, and provide tools for workers to support each other.
They offer a few different training programs:
General Awareness Training (GAT)
The GAT is an introductory session designed to raise awareness about mental health and suicide in the engineering and construction industry. Basic knowledge is provided to help identify warning signs of mental distress in themselves and others and how to seek help when required.
This program takes a more in-depth approach, where willing participants are trained to become ‘Connectors’. Connectors are volunteers who provide immediate and confidential support to their peers and connect them to appropriate professional help. The focus is on listening, understanding, and offering initial support without taking on the role of a counsellor.
ASSIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training)
The ASSIST program is a two-day intensive, interactive workshop that equips participants with more advanced skills to intervene and help prevent the immediate risk of suicide. It is designed for those who might have to deal with crises and provides practical tools to address and manage potential suicide scenarios effectively.
Click on the links below for more specific details about MATES in Construction’s training programs.
MATES in Construction also provide support when critical incidents have occurred to a worker or when a worker’s family member has died. They also help employ suitable qualified managers to assist troubled workers and send out Field Officers to visit construction sites to establish the programs offered.
By addressing the specific mental health needs of workers in this field, these training programs contribute to a safer and more productive work environment, ultimately enhancing individuals’ overall health and performance in the construction industry.
TradeMutt – Australia
TradeMutt is an Australian workwear brand specialising in creating high-visibility, colourful work shirts to start conversations about mental health in the construction industry. Through their eye-catching designs, TradeMutt’s workwear serves as a catalyst for breaking down the stigma associated with mental health discussions in a typically harsh industry.
TradeMutt also co-funded TIACS – a free, mental health counselling service for tradies, truckies, rural and blue collar workers which provides up to 8 free sessions via text or call with the same counsellor.
TIACS is available Monday – Friday 8am – 10pm AEST
Phone Number: 0488 846 988
Mental health hotlines across Australia and New Zealand
Even if you are unsure how to start a conversation about a coworker’s well-being, being supportive and listening is crucial in helping them get better.
Hotlines provide immediate support, counselling, and resources to address mental health concerns, ultimately reducing suicide rates.
Below are a few helpful resources:
Lifeline – Call 13 11 14, text 0477 13 11 14 or chat online. Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counselling, support groups and suicide prevention services.
Suicide Call Back Service – Call 1300 659 467. They provide 24/7 support if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal.
SANE Australia – Call 1800 187 263, 10am – 10pm AEST (Mon – Fri), or chat online. SANE Australia provides support to individuals affected by complex mental health issues.
MATES in Construction Support Line (Australia) – Call 1300 642 111
MensLine Australia – Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours/7 days a week, chat online or organise a video chat. They provide telephone and online counselling services to all men based in Australia.
Lifeline – Call 0800 543 354 or free text 4357 (HELP)
MATES in Construction Support Line – Call 0800 11 315.
Samaritans – Call 0800 726 666. Samaritans give confidential support to anyone lonely or currently in emotional distress.
Depression Helpline – Call 800 111 757 or free text 4202. You can talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling.
Healthline – Call 0800 611 116 for advice from experienced health staff.
TAUTOKO Suicide Crisis Helpline – Call 0508 828 865 if you, or someone you know, may be thinking about potential suicide.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and requires help immediately, then call triple zero (000) if you are based in Australia or triple one (111) if you are based in New Zealand.
Ann M. Roche, Janine Chapman, Vinita Duraisingam, Brooke Phillips,Jim Finnane & Ken Pidd (2021): Flying below the Radar: Psychoactive Drug Use among Young Male Construction Workers in Sydney, Australia, Substance Use & Misuse, DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2021.1892139
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