Responding to the mental health fallout of Covid-19 in the construction industry

This post is guest authored by Bill Hill, CEO of the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity

As well as the word ‘unprecedented’, we are now hearing the words ‘mental health’ every day.

That’s good because it means people are talking about the issues. But I was truly saddened to see the recent data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which found that male suicides are now at their highest in two decades and suicides peaked in the 45-55 age category.

At the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity, we already know that construction workers are on the highly vulnerable list.  Over 85% of the workforce is male and over 50% of the sector is made up of self-employed, agency staff or zero-hours contract workers. The lack of job security can contribute significantly to poor mental health. And when they do get work, it can be away from home in an unfamiliar area without their normal support network of family and friends. Working long hours, trying to keep everyone happy including family, their boss, the main contractor and the client, often to extremely tight deadlines can simply be too much.

But despite the pandemic, I am proud to say that our charity has been able to respond to the needs of the industry.  Calls to our 24/7 helpline increased by 56% at the outbreak of the pandemic and our case load has almost doubled. 48% of the cases we manage are in the 40-60 age group and from lower income job categories in the sector. This is the most vulnerable group. Many have had a lifetime of physical labour and their bodies are failing but they need to keep working to support their families.

A crucial element of our charity strategy is to provide more proactive interventions to support the mental wellbeing of those working in the construction industry.  This includes our free and confidential 24/7 Construction Industry Helpline and supporting app. We have also ensured the widespread availability of free construction-focused training programmes.

One of the key findings of our recently published 2019 Impact Report was that 62% of emergency financial grants were to pay for daily living costs, paying bills and clearing rent arrears. Financial wellbeing is one of the key factors affecting mental health and the introduction of ‘bang on budget’ financial management sessions, aim to directly address these issues.

The fallout of Covid-19 has also seen an increasing number of redundancies across the industry, so we have now also added two sessions aimed at improving employability with ‘At the Interview’ and a ‘CV Workshop’.

Both the pandemic and the impending ‘B’ word has accelerated the use of technology in our industry. So perhaps focussing on retraining this age group on working with new machinery and technology might lower the calls to our helpline and give this workforce another 20 years’ working life and a retirement to look forward to.

We are pleased to have partners like BECG who are helping us to deliver these initiatives and raise awareness for the charity, and see wellbeing as a central pillar to their own business strategy, as chief executive Stephen Pomeroy explains:

Mental health must be as much of a priority as physical health and, at BECG, our Wellbeing Strategy includes benefits that support employees with financial, health, and mental wellbeing through training, mentoring and rewards for positive lifestyle choices.

The support that the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity is providing those affected by the fallout of Covid-19 is hugely important and we will continue to support them in their mission to ensure that no construction worker or their family should be alone in a crisis.

If you or anyone you know is struggling, you can reach out for free and confidential support through our 24/7 Construction Industry helplines:

UK 0345 605 1956

ROI 1800 939 122

Find out more about the partnership between BECG and the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity here.