Self-employed men in construction are three times more likely to commit suicide
Almost a third of self-employed workers in the construction industry are living with poor mental health, according to new research, which also suggests that more than two commit suicide every day.
A study by charity Mates in Mind and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) found that intense workloads, financial problems, poor work-life balance and Covid pressures on the supply of materials are resulting in significantly higher stress and anxiety levels.
The survey, which polled more than 300 people working in a range of trades including bricklayers, groundworkers and plasterers, found that there is still a stigma around mental health within the industry.
As a result, many are reluctant to seek professional help, which is leading to an increase in alcoholism, non-prescription drug use and self-harm.
Mental health stigma is construction’s ‘hidden crisis’
The findings chime with recent data from the Office for National Statistics, which revealed that the suicide rate among self-employed tradespeople – a sector that is male-dominated – is three times higher than the national average for men.
This is equivalent to more than two workers in this industry taking their life daily.
Sarah Casemore, managing director at Mates in mind, said: “We have a real concern that the data shows that sole traders and those working in smaller firms with more severe anxiety were least likely to seek help from most sources.
“This means that too many construction workers every day are going under the radar and are not seeking support from healthcare professionals or mental health charities.
“This represents a real hidden crisis which threatens the viability of a major sector of the UK economy and many of those who work in it.”
Covid pressures led to decline in mental health by 200%
The study, funded by a research grant from B&CE Charitable Trust, is investigating both the extent of mental health problems in this important workforce and how new, more accessible, forms of support and guidance on mental wellbeing can be offered.
Andy Chamberlain, director of policy at IPSE – a trade body for self-employed workers – echoed Casemore’s concerns. He said: “Despite increased awareness, we are still a long way from achieving parity of esteem between physical and mental health.
“For male construction workers especially, the research is incredibly worrying. While solving this issue is no easy task, we at IPSE believe that the government and industry can make a start by raising awareness and incentivising client businesses to support their freelancer’s mental health needs.”
Chamberlain added that IPSE’s own research has found that poor mental health rose by 200 per cent during Covid and there are many external factors that can take its toll when working for yourself such as chasing late payments and work-life balance.
Echoing Chamberlain’s thoughts was Troy Stevens, Managing Director of tradesman insurance specialist, Rhino Trade Insurance, who described it as a ‘tragedy’:
“These statistics are staggering and show it’s time that even more was done to help and protect the self-employed tradespeople who are struggling with their mental health. Suicide is a tragedy and it’s important that this crisis got the attention it deserves.
“We’ve all heard the phrase ‘it’s okay not to be okay’, but until everyone – whether self-employed builders, plumbers or electricians – feels comfortable enough to reach out, there is work to be done to turn the tide.”
What does this mean for self-employed tradespeople?
While it is important to ensure that you have a healthy work-life balance, if you are feeling stressed or anxious more often, please seek professional help. From Mates in Mind to Samaritans, there is a growing support network for those who are struggling.