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Mental Health in the Construction Industry

Mental Health in the Construction Industry

Advice for contractorMental Health in the Construction Industry

Despite efforts in recent years to dispel stigmas and raise awareness regarding mental health concerns amongst the general population, of the five assessed work sectors, the construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates. What could possibly explain the alarming results shown by these studies?

How Working in Construction Affects Mental Health

stressed contractor

Source: Canva

Day-to-day life in the construction industry exposes contractors and construction workers to elevated risk factors of developing mental health issues. Long, demanding work hours combined with short deadlines, injuries coupled with financial uncertainty, navigating a male-dominated industry where prejudice does not improve stress nor recovery. This combination of factors has contributed to what can be described as a mental health crisis within the industry.

Without generalizing, several studies have shown that men, especially men of another generation, feel more ashamed, powerless, and even unaware of the issues that affect them psychologically or physically. Moreover, it is often difficult to talk openly with trusted friends and family members. However, without a medical diagnosis, it is impossible to go forward or file a claim with the CNESST. The downward spiral of work-related exhaustion only perpetuates itself, thus reducing productivity and self-esteem, increasing absences and the likelihood of injury.

In fact, every year in Canada, mental health struggles result in over 50 billion dollars in expenditures, not including the costs associated with insurance benefits and administered care. Furthermore, as soon as a person suffers from a problem affecting their mental well-being, it goes without saying, that those around them are also affected: anxiety, feelings of powerlessness, financial insecurity, the behaviour of children, etc. For these reasons, it is important to collectively establish solutions or, at the very least, to set up qualified support resources.

Issues Faced in the Construction Industry

mental health issues

Source: Canva

Naturally, anyone is at risk of developing symptoms of poor mental health, but more so people with long-term exposure to stressors deemed detrimental to one’s well-being and mental equilibrium.

Image: Flickr


First and foremost, note that construction workers are more likely to experience falls, injuries, and chronic pain, which can lead to diminished productivity and even permanent loss of work. Just the mere fact of being in any way disabled can set off a vicious cycle. On top of financial losses, another consequence that is sometimes overlooked is substance abuse.

On the one hand, repressed negative feelings, stress in the face of uncertainty, and unexpected physical disability can lead to increased alcohol and/or drug use and compensatory behavioural habits. On the other hand, opioids are often prescribed as part of the course of treatment to reduce pain. However, for many people, these painkillers are highly addictive, especially if one returns to work before the injury has fully healed or if the after-effects persist permanently.

On a different note, situations that subscribe to the famous saying: "Do more with less," are all too often encountered in the field; unfortunately, to the detriment of workers' health. Mental and physical exhaustion lurk. Work overload is sometimes caused by extremely tight deadlines, a lack of resources or manpower, a need to build an impeccable reputation in the industry, and uncontrollable factors such as the weather, etc. Some believe that they need incentives to get through back-breaking contracts and to survive over time. This leads to an addiction to a different kind of substance.

Deficiency Needs

The next biggest factors relate to a lack of autonomy, recognition, support, and security.

The first of these applies mainly to novice or assembly-line workers. It has been proven that working in conditions where one is not involved in any decision-making role, where one does not control time or tasks, and where one is only minimally intellectually stimulated, is detrimental to self-esteem and motivation.

The next two involve almost all workers, both factory and field workers, managers and subcontractors. Teamwork is essential to a healthy work environment and to productivity in general. Without the support of family and colleagues, in addition to repercussions on performance and quality of final results, it is not always rewarding to confide in others. Similarly, feeling that your supervisor is withholding positive feedback to avoid jealousy, knowing that no one but you will financially support a project, or that your successes will not be celebrated, can be demoralizing. Do what you have to do, but give credit where credit is due.

Lastly, in regard to security, the focus here is on job security rather than safety standards. The construction industry is a field in which hiring is often based on current, ongoing projects and where many shifts are left vacant during the wintertime.

Toxic Work Environment

Lingering conflicts and harassment of any kind are obviously among the issues. Plants and factories with an HR department and unions will often have clear zero-tolerance policies for both verbal and physical abuse.

As a result, workers are more likely to speak out against such inappropriate behaviour and its effects can be gauged. On work sites where there is a high turnover of workers from different backgrounds, the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not are less established, particularly as women move into the workplace alongside their male colleagues.

Overview of Psychological Distress Triggers:

  • Conditions that lead to dependency;

  • Overbearing workload;

  • Unfulfilled needs;

  • Male-dominated industry with fewer health care needs;

  • Job insecurity (contracts, seasonal lay-offs, and lack of funding).

83% of construction workers experienced a mental health issue

As staggering as that statistic may be, it's unfortunately true. According to a research by the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan (CIRP) in 2020, 83% of industry construction workers have faced moderate to severe mental health challenges. The study also revealed that 90% of construction workers had experienced significant early childhood trauma, and 70% had undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.

More Statistics

  • 76% of all workers report experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition within the year, up from 59 percent in 2019.

  • A 2019 survey of construction workers found those whose pain had originated from work had significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress severity.

  • A 2021 study shows the majority of construction workers perceived poor quality of sleep, which can lead to negative psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

  • Only 17% of industry workers would comfortably discuss mental health issues with a supervisor. Only 18% would confide in coworkers.

  • Ranked first in pain reliever abuse among all industries (22%).

  • Ranked first in marijuana use (60%).

  • Ranked first in heroin use (4.5%).

  • Ranked second for substance abuse disorders (16%).

  • Ranked second for heavy drinking (16%).

  • Ranked third for illicit drug use by industry (13%).

  • Men working in construction codie by suicide at a rate of 45 out of every 100,000.

  • Female construction workers die by suicide at a rate of nine out of every 100,000.

What's Stopping Change?

stressed contractor

Source: Canva

According to the 2021 Pulse Survey Results and Report, conducted to gain a deeper understanding of mental health experiences and needs within the construction industry, found four major reasons stopping workers from seeking help with their mental health or substance misuse:

  • 78% - Shame and stigma

  • 77% - Fear of judgement by peers

  • 55% - Fear of negative job consequences

  • 46% - Don't know how to access care

Possible Solutions for the Well-being of the Industry

contractors shaking hands

In many developed countries, employers are technically required by law to protect their employees’ physical and mental health. While they have a legal responsibility to intervene in problematic situations and to provide the necessary resources, concrete ways to do so remain somewhat murky.

This is especially true when considering that mental health problems are often overlooked and kept under wraps. Since worrying about the physical and mental health of workers involves dealing with the people directly responsible for a company's success, why not try to find some solutions?

Image: Tumisu - Pixabay

Dialogue and Team Building (Toolbox Talk)

Improving internal communications and having conversations around mental health will foster a more positive work environment: one that is open and transparent. Communicate to your employees that you are supportive and understanding. On one hand, conflicts will be settled sooner since it will be much easier to determine the root of the problem and the appropriate actions to take. On the other hand, not denying the symptoms of depression or any other form of the disorder, and not placing blame on the person affected will encourage any affected worker to seek professional help.

Another option is organizing support groups among co-workers from the same sector to share and support each other with common concerns. With the dialogue process, it is essential to feel heard, supported, and to receive an outsider’s point of view.

Lead by example. During briefings or team meetings, from a professional perspective, share your own dilemmas, concerns, etc. Employees will perceive your approach as accessible and sympathetic to their struggles.


Education is part of the process that will put an end to the stigma surrounding mental health problems and provide people with the knowledge to better manage their stress.

There are several mental health resources that offer training modules for employees and employers. Topics may include:

  • Work-family balance;

  • Exercises to break away from habitual negative thoughts;

  • Empathy development;

  • Recognizing the warning signs of mental health problems;

  • Methods of helping and intervening;

  • Managing emotions and precarious situations;

  • Drug and alcohol awareness.

Support and Resources

Prioritizing workers' safety and mental well-being is essential, and this involves providing them with critical resources and contact information. This can be done through posters or QR codes in strategic locations like washrooms and notice boards. 

 It's important to ensure workers know how to access Employee and Family Assistance Programs and share the regional suicide prevention hotline number. Making this information easily accessible, such as on hard hats, allows workers to seek support and assistance when needed.

Resources for Workers

Offer your employees online or in-person therapy sessions. Clearly list mobile apps associated with learning tools and materials. Hand out related advertisements and more (compulsive gambling, domestic violence, post-traumatic stress disorder, limiting illnesses like diabetes or eating disorders, etc.).

If possible, apply for insurance plans that speak directly to your reality, and value healthy lifestyles, and mental health care. For example, MÉDIC Construction supports only members of the construction industry and is entirely financed by said industry.

Should you witness the signs of a possible mood disorder, make a referral to the appropriate professional services to avoid further consequences:

  • Slow and uncharacteristically low or decreased productivity;

  • Increased level and frequency of conflicts between co-workers;

  • Withdrawal and dejected demeanour;

  • Confused, defeated, or suicidal thoughts.

If required, call either:

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Last modified 2024-07-18

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