One in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind this year in the UK, a figure that increases among construction professionals. Ian Dryden, national specification manager for SIG, is an advocate and fundraiser for better mental wellbeing across the construction industry, and discusses mental health among roofers, and the important steps they can take to safeguard themselves.
The onset of coronavirus, and the temporary shut-down of sites nationwide, has exacerbated the construction sector’s mental health crisis, reduced income, unstable work and anxiety around health have been primary drivers for worry and uncertainty during these difficult times, and its crucial the construction industry takes steps to safeguard employee mental health.
It’s a struggle Ian Dryden, national specification manager for SIG, knows all too well. Now an advocate and fundraiser for better mental wellbeing across the construction industry, Ian has previously battled mental health issues of his own.
Ian explained: “There is, rightly, a major focus on site safeguarding and physical safety across the construction industry, but poor mental health can be even more damaging. Construction is a fast-paced, at times demanding, sector, which is why it attracts many people to work within it, but if left unchecked, those stressors can accumulate and lead to serious mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
“During my own battles with mental health, it was really the Samaritans that helped me through. They provide a truly fantastic, confidential helpline service for those in need, and they have played a huge role in getting me where I am today.”
Embark on an intrepid journey
It was Ian’s experience with the Samaritans that led him to want to give something back to the organisation that had helped him through his dark times. After some consideration, Ian decided to embark on an intrepid bid to scale Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.
Ian continued: “I wanted to push myself and do something once in a lifetime to raise some much-needed funds for the Samaritans. The thought of scaling one of the highest mountains in the world was daunting, but I knew I wanted to raise as much money as possible for such an important, and lifesaving, cause.”
Leaving the UK for Tanzania on Boxing Day 2019, Ian followed the trusted Swalihi mantra of ‘pole, pole’ (slowly, slowly) to safely ascend the mountain, finally reaching the snow-capped summit on New Year’s Day 2020, raising more than £7,000 in the process.
Ian said: “It was fantastic to be able to raise so much money for a cause so close to my heart. Sadly, the current climate of uncertainty means mental health problems are affecting an increasing number of people, so it’s vital that employers are attuned to their team’s needs, and contractors know of the services out there to support them.”
Ian’s experiences with mental health issues are all-too common across the sector. According to a recent report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK construction industry is in the grip of a mental health crisis. Upwards of 350,000 tradespeople may be affected by mental health issues at any one time, with 23% of construction workers reporting that high levels of workplace stress is making them actively consider leaving the industry.
Staggeringly, skilled construction workers are ten times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work, with male professionals at the greatest amount of risk, or 3.7 times the national average. A follow-up report, carried out on behalf of UK Construction Week, found that six out of 10 people working in construction have suffered from mental health problems during their working life, with financial issues (45%), work / life balance (41%) and physical ailments (41%) among the most common causes.
Ian concluded: “It’s important that contractors know how much support is out there for them. From confidential telephone services such as the Samaritans and the Construction Industry Helpline, to voluntary schemes and awareness campaigns spearheaded by the likes of MIND, the mental health charity, it is crucially important construction professionals seek help when they are in need.
“And for construction business owners, I would encourage them to listen to their workforce, and ensure they have processes in place whereby employees can honestly and openly discuss how they’re feeling. Eliminating the stigma around mental health issues is absolutely key to ensuring better mental well-being across the construction industry, and while things are improving, its clear there is more work to do. From investing in sensitivity training or counselling services, to on-site quiet spaces or designated wellbeing days, there are numerous steps that can be taken to put better mental health into the heart of the workplace – and further safeguard industry professionals.”