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Creating Mental Health Support in the Construction Industry

EDA Contractors CEO Ed DeAngelis discusses the importance of prioritizing mental health support in the construction industry.

Recently, Construction Working Minds White Paper 2024 highlighted key issues that continue to impact construction including mental health, suicide, and substance abuse.

Taking inventory of construction workers' mental health is the duty of all who lead the construction industry forward. We all shoulder the duty of nurturing and fostering mental health, and mental health awareness. As the white paper asserts, the construction industry grapples with alarming statistics on mental health, substance abuse, and suicide, with opioid addiction impacting worker productivity, retention, and even bleeding into their personal life. 

As an industry, we can do a better job. 

When employees feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to foster trust, camaraderie, and collaboration. This in turn, allows individuals to feel more comfortable when it comes to reaching out for support when they need it. Psychological safety is a fundamental aspect of creating a safe, healthy, and thriving work environment. Industry leaders have a responsibility to intentionally focus on physical safety, but also on psychological safety to create safer, healthier, and more productive workplaces. 

According to Construction Working Minds White Paper 2024, positive trends in construction worker wellbeing include leadership buy-in, cultivating a caring company culture, and uploading a human connection to leadership, promoting compassionate awareness and understanding in the workplace. Additional positive steps toward supporting construction workers include proactive education, training and development, as well as structure peer support, providing ample mental health resources and suicide crisis lifeline support, and fueling industry-specific research initiatives.

According to the white paper, barriers and obstacles to construction worker mental health include leadership bias, stigma and fear, lack of access to information and resources, a reactive care measure over a proactive care measure, and damaging training gaps. The content of the white paper is based largely on conversations among and input from the attendees of the 2023 Construction Working Minds Summit in Kansas City, MO, co-chaired by Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas & Cal Beyer and co-hosted by the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention and United Suicide Survivors International.

Development of this white paper began in 2015 with A Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace, published by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Subsequently, several other action-oriented guides have helped the industry take steps toward building comprehensive and sustainable upstream, midstream, and downstream strategies to improve worker well-being and mitigate mental health emergencies. In 2022 the first Construction Working Minds Summit was held in Denver, Colorado, with 200 people in attendance, and in 2023, the second Construction Working Minds Summit was held in Kansas City, Missouri, with 400 people in attendance. 

Making a PACT for Mental Health

On October 12, 2023, EDA Contractors hosted its second annual event which addressed substance abuse within the construction industry and provided resources to workers. The Personal Accountability Changes Today (PACT) Festival featured contests, giveaways, food trucks, and opportunities to hear stories of how colleagues and community members overcame addiction.  

EDA's PACT Festival was open to all workers regardless of prior substance abuse history, and was attended by over 175 employees including workers from carpentry, roofing, and masonry trades. It also featured presenters from Recovering Centers of America, Narcotics Anonymous, National Alliance of Mental Health, Carpenters Unions, and Masonry Union. The PACT Festival was a fun and safe way to address the issues plaguing our community, while encouraging safe and competent job performance. 

The EDA PACT Program is just one of the ways EDA supports employees who are struggling. PACT encourages safe and competent job performance through identification of inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs. The program provides individuals with the steps needed for entering treatment and ultimately guarantees a return to work upon completion. PACT is a lifeline, we hope, to the people who help EDA achieve success. PACT is the embodiment of our commitment to sustaining a psychological safe workplace, where all feel seen and supported.

Did You Know? Construction Safety Week is May 6-10, 2024

This year, as Construction Safety Week 2024 encourages us to Value Every Voice, the need to advocate for mental health and wellness support in the construction industry is stronger than ever. 

As noted for all to appreciate at the Construction Safety Week website:

"The safety and success of any construction project is determined by the individual decisions and actions of every team member, the things they see, communicate and act on day in and day out. Each person on the job, regardless of their role, has a deep responsibility for the safety of their entire team, and must commit to always taking initiative when it comes to safety, to own the choices they make and the outcomes that result from those choices.

That's why it's critical to create an engaging, supportive environment that promotes communication, ownership, and teamwork, where everyone can express their ideas, needs, and concerns without fear of judgement or repercussion, be accountable for their choices and actions, and work together toward the safest solutions and outcomes. Showing trust and confidence in everyone's ability to get the job done safely and efficiently will build confidence in every team member, in any position, and give them persona ownership and a strong voice in the safety and success of their team and project."

We in the construction industry know that our workers face some of the greatest challenges of any workforce, with high-stress environments, tight deadlines and high-pressure situations contributing to demands on mental health and personal safety. We in the construction industry realize our workers may spend extended periods of time working away from family and friends, contributing to feelings of isolation and despair, which impact mental health and personal safety. The stigma and shame that all too often accompanies the discussion of substance abuse and suicide rates impacting the construction industry needs to end. Our workers are due the support, training, and resources they need to live lives of safety, productivity, and success.

Right now, we have an opportunity - as an industry. We must work harder for the mental health betterment of our workforce. I see no greater leadership calling currently for leaders in construction, than to ask… What can we do?

  • We can, as an industry, improve our mental health awareness, resources, and workforce training.
  • We can, as an industry, elevate our operational and organizational standards to support a resilient workforce entitled to accessing the essential care and understanding needed to thrive as people in our community.
  • We can, as an industry, embrace our workforce with the intention of creating legacies of hope - building our workforce up as they build the world around us all. 

I truly believe that we can all be successful together, if we each do all we can do.