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Written by: Lauren Hardy, Clinical Lead, CIRP

Construction is one of the cornerstones of British Columbia’s economy, with the scenic landscapes of BC serving as a backdrop for the tireless labour of construction workers who shape our cities, towns, and infrastructure. However, beneath the hard hats and amidst the bustling sounds of machinery, a concerning issue is gaining attention – the mental well-being of construction workers.

Recent studies and reports have shed light on the heightened rates of suicide and mental health challenges in the construction industry. Unfortunately, BC is no exception to this trend, with construction workers having 25% increased likelihood of dying by suicide, compared to any other sector. The demands of the job, the physical toll it takes, long hours, and the often-transient nature of the work can lead to feelings of isolation and stress.

Several factors contribute to this silent crisis in BC’s construction industry, including:

Job Instability: Unlike many other professions, construction work is seasonal and often project-based, leading to uncertainty regarding job security and increased feelings of hopelessness.

Physical Strain: Constant physical labour can lead to chronic pain and fatigue, which, in turn, can impact one’s mental well-being.

Social Isolation: Construction work is transient in nature, with workers often away from family and friends, leading to feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

Given these challenges, it is disheartening but not surprising that many construction workers suffer in silence, not seeking help for their mental and emotional struggles. The stigma associated with mental health, particularly in traditionally ‘stoic’ industries like construction, plays a significant role in this. The latest research shows that 78% of construction workers do not seek mental health help due to shame and stigma, and 55% do not ask for mental health help due to fear of job loss.

However, there is hope on the horizon for BC’s construction workers.

Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan (CIRP), an employer and union-funded program, is taking proactive steps to raise awareness by offering training geared towards prevention, such as “suicide prevention and awareness” and “MH (mental health) stewards.” CIRP’s Opioid Pain-Free Clinic (OPFC) has helped construction workers find relief from the physical strain of the job. By using innovative myofascial activation, workers are finding respite from not only physical pain but mental pain as well.

Furthermore, recent initiatives from CIRP aim to break down the stigma associated with seeking help. By creating an environment where it is okay to talk about one’s struggles, it becomes easier for someone to reach out. CIRP’s MH stewards training offers vital skills to assist front-line site forepersons and superintendents in tackling workplace mental health issues and helps create a safe, trauma-informed, and stigma-free environment for those experiencing mental health-related issues.

In addition to these trainings, CIRP developed the BuildStrong App, a valuable resource that places support directly into the hands of construction workers. This app is free to download for all BCBT and CLR members and contains a wealth of resources to help you navigate the unique mental health challenges you may face in the industry. The BuildStrong App includes:

Self-Screeners: Use these tools to assess your mental well-being and identify areas where you may need support.

Self-Help Videos: Access a library of self-help videos that provide guidance on managing stress, anxiety, and other common mental health concerns.

Worksheets: Engage in therapeutic activities and exercises to promote mental well-being and resilience.

Toolbox Talks: Gain valuable insights through educational discussions on mental health topics specifically tailored for construction workers.

This app is designed to break down the stigma associated with seeking help and create a supportive community within the construction industry. By having these resources at your fingertips, you can take proactive steps to prioritize your mental health and well-being.

Other initiatives emerging include new helplines and counseling services dedicated specifically to construction workers. They provide a safe and anonymous space for workers to express their feelings, share their struggles, and seek guidance.

So, what can you do if you or someone you know in the construction industry are struggling?

Stay Connected: Keeping in touch with loved ones, even if it is through a simple phone call or message. This can combat feelings of isolation.

Seek Help: Utilize the resources provided by associations like CIRP or reach out to local helplines. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Be Observant: If you notice a colleague or friend displaying signs of distress or a change in behavior, approach them with empathy and suggest professional help.

In conclusion, while the challenges faced by construction workers in BC regarding their mental health are indeed concerning, the increasing awareness and available resources are promising. As a society, we have an obligation to protect and support those who build our homes, roads, and cities. By shedding light on this issue and working together, we can ensure a brighter, healthier future for all construction workers in British Columbia.