Canadians are coming to realize the far-reaching impacts of psychological well-being, and so governments, employees, and individuals are doing more to spread understanding and support workers suffering from poor mental health.
Major political parties featured mental health initiatives on their platforms during the 2019 election. Large corporations have also joined the conversation. As more information becomes available, it turns out that certain industries and workplaces might require special attention.
The Basics of Mental Health in Construction
The construction industry has traditionally suffered disproportionately with mental health concerns. In 2007, a third of trades helpers and labourers reported poor mental health. According to a 2016 report entitled Addiction and Mental Health in the Construction Industry, Alberta construction workers were more likely to report that they are heavy drinkers and were at a greater risk of problems related to illicit drug use. The research also revealed the use of alcohol or illicit drugs had a moderate or extremely serious impact on their coworkers’ performance.
Meanwhile, WorkSafeBC, the workers’ compensation board for British Columbia, reports mental health claims in construction were up 25% between 2017 and 2019. In order for a claim to be submitted for coverage with WorkSafeBC, the mental health issue must have been caused by work or must have occurred in the workplace. The worker seeking compensation needs a diagnosis from a psychologist or a psychiatrist.
The Silent Epidemic
Researchers are still learning why construction workers are so affected by mental health disorders. The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US posits faraway worksites that isolate workers from family and friends, high stress, and a high prevalence of substance and alcohol abuse in the industry are contributing factors that impact mental health.
But construction is fighting back against what’s been dubbed the ‘silent epidemic.’ Companies, associations, and governing bodies are reaching out to educate workers on the importance of mental well-being and reducing the stigma so that sufferers can reach out for help.
What’s Being Done Currently
The Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VRCA) organized a two-day workshop in January to educate its members in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA). MHFA, which has been around since 2001, aims to accomplish similar goals for mental health crises as first aid does for physical harm: It teaches people to recognize and approach the immediate problem and help the sufferer until professional help is available.
Around the same time, VRCA launched a new mental health resources section on its website, expanding its repertoire of materials and resources to include more mental health and wellness topics.
The BC Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA) hosted an industry breakfast entitled Mental Health and the Construction Industry in August 2019. It was so well attended that BCCSA decided to spend the year’s focus on the topic. The organization offers numerous resources to develop leaders and workers that can help improve the culture of construction.
Provincial leadership may have helped spur on conversation and recognition of mental health concerns in BC when it changed its workers’ compensation act to expand coverage for mental disorders back in 2012.
Construction companies are working hard to improve mental health, too. Scott Construction won multiple awards at the 2018 AON awards and took home the 2019 Innovation of the Year award for the work of its mental health committee. Chaired by Donna Grant, the committee runs monthly Lunch and Learn sessions that discuss subjects involving mental health, such as financial stress and suicide awareness. The committee also speaks at industry events.
Why Construction is Doing Better Than Other Industries
Of course, 2020 has delivered its own brand of mental health risks. Interestingly, construction workers have been faring better than many other industry workers through this upheaval.
Morneau Shepell reports Canada’s Mental Health Index in July was sitting at -10. The Index represents the current state of mental health in comparison to a set (pre-2020) benchmark. Lower scores indicate worsened mental health. According to July’s report, the highest mental health scores were observed in mining and oil and gas extraction (-6.1), real estate (-6.3), and construction (-7.2).
The report said that the two key drivers for mental health during this spring and summer have been isolation and financial risk. This may explain why construction workers have held up comparatively well. Although unemployment rates were 13.7% in July, construction work, deemed an essential service, continued, and workers remained in high demand.
Still Work to be Done
Canada’s construction industry is still doing the hard work of understanding the causes of mental health concerns, normalizing the conversation around them, and helping to seek treatment for its workers’ afflictions. Thankfully, as the conversation evolves, free and easily accessible resources are available country-wide.
Here are a few: