Mental Health in construction

Why Building Resilience Is the Key to Mental Health in Construction 

Every second day in Australia, a person in construction will take their own life. October is National Mental Health Month, led by Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA) to advocate for and raise awareness of mental health in Australia. Here’s how a few organisations are supporting the cause.

With more than 190 people across the sector each year being lost to suicide, workers in the construction industry are six times more likely to die by suicide than through workplace accidents.  

The National Mental Health Month 2022 Awareness Campaign theme is: ‘Building Resilience: Communities and Connections’. 

Mental Health Month Activities 

A broad range of events are held nationwide, aiming to raise awareness and start conversations around mental health and well-being. 

Walk for Mental Health is an initiative of Mental Health Foundation Australia (MHFA), the oldest not-for-profit, non-government mental health organisation in Australia, serving the community since 1930. 

The annual event is being held at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, 16 October 2022, in each state and territory capital of Australia. The walks are the perfect opportunity for the community to come together to raise awareness and advocate for mental health.  

Across every state and territory, events concerning mental wellness, women’s, seniors and men’s mental health, managing addictions and more collectively aim to support diverse Australian mental needs.  

This Is a Conversation Starter 

For best mates and business partners Dan and Ed, mental health at home and in the workplace is central to their everyday work. 

The owners of workwear manufacturer Trademutt founded a mental health support service called This Is a Conversation Starter (TIACS) after the loss of a friend. 

“In 2015 Dan lost a mate to suicide and I was struggling to find the tools to support him,” Ed said. 

“There was a complete void of tools to support others in the workplace.” 

With many Australians spending more time with team members than their friends and families and with many blue-collar industry workers under stress, Ed and Dan knew they needed to step in and help—dedicating 50% of their business profits to TIACS each year. 

TIACS is a free and confidential chat, text and callback service, providing early-intervention mental health support for Australia’s truckies, tradies, blue collar workers and those who care about them. 

The business partners launched TIACS in 2020 and since then have delivered more than 7,000 hours of free clinical support to the blue-collar community. 

“We decided to create the changes we wanted to see in the space,” Ed said. 

“For more than half the people who call us it’s the first time they’ve gotten to speak to someone who can offer them mental health support. 

“TradeMutt came about in the confusing but reflective period following what happened in 2016. We are an Australian workwear brand that aims to make tradies and workers of all kinds look and feel great at work, and in doing so, reduce the rate of male suicide in Australia.  

“Our loud and vibrant shirts act as a catalyst to starting the conversation around mental health in men, a topic that has been hard to approach in the past for blokes, mostly due to the attached stigmas and perceived weakness.” 

TIACS Fast Facts

  • TIACS is an early to mid-leverage intervention, allowing callers to talk to the same counsellor.  
  • Callers can get 6-10 sessions of support.  
  • They have had 11,500 clients in two years 
  • 54% of callers are reaching out for help for the first time 
  • They have created $1.9 million worth of mental health funding free of charge.  

Mental Health in the Construction Industry 

Each year, untreated mental health conditions cost Australian employers approximately $12.8 billion through absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims. 

A male-dominated industry, construction workers often have early starts and late finishes, with many working away from home for slabs of time in FIFO and similar structures. On site and after hours they may turn to substance abuse and other addictive habits such as gambling—all of which may worsen their mental health and well-being. 

With the industry under crisis as a result of COVID-19-related shutdowns, supply chain issues, inflationary spirals and company collapses, job security stresses are looming. 

The sector is driven by projects with defined finish dates and lulls in opportunities. While state and territory governments are investing in record infrastructure investment spends, private sector investment in large-scale projects may be under threat with less demand for inner city corporate spaces. 

Workers with dependants to feed and bills to pay often have to worry about whether they will get another project to help sustain themselves. 

Supporting Your Construction Workforce 

Investing in the mental health and well-being of your workforce is an investment in your business—improving staff attendance, loyalty and productivity. 

A healthy workplace promotes mental well-being, minimises workplace risks to mental health, supports people experiencing mental health issues and reduces stigma associated with mental health conditions. 

According to Heads Up—a Beyond Blue initiative supported by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance—when developing strategies for a healthy workplace there are three critical success factors:  

  1. Commitment from senior organisational leaders and business owners 
  2. Employee participation 
  3. Ongoing communication 

Organisations can begin with getting the right foundation in place—including a mental health and well-being policy, alongside policies around workplace bullying, career development, cultural awareness, discrimination, employee assistance programs (EAPs), equal opportunity, fitness for work, harassment, health promotion, leave arrangements, people and performance management, recruitment, return to work, and work health and safety (WH&S). 

Heads Up offers a range of resources and support to help business owners, managers and employees improve workplace mental health and well-being.  

Businesses and their employees have formal rights and responsibilities under discrimination, privacy, and work health and safety legislation. 

A guide to developing a workplace mental health strategy enables managers to systematically develop and implement a plan to create a mentally healthy workplace. The guide contains an action plan template that can help businesses build their plans. 

Training opportunities and resources also support businesses in building stronger and more resilient workforces into the future. 

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