Historically the construction industry has been known for the toughness of its workforce. Smashed fingers, burns, falls, surly co-workers – all can be part of the job and something workers just deal with because they’re not a bunch of whiners. It’s stressful to be as safe as you can on the job, but they manage to handle it.

Yet the reality is that construction workers are still people, and people have issues, whether they deal with them aloud or not. There has always been a sort of stigma about mental health in society at large. You generally didn’t talk about those issues, and certainly not on the job. The emphasis was on delivering a good product, not on how the workers “feel.” It wasn’t commonplace to take time to get to know the person behind the employee.

Nowadays, there’s a lot of pressure on construction workers. Foremost continues to be safety, because smashed fingers are the least of a worker’s worries at this point. There’s now uncertainty about job availability, about continuity of careers, about what construction will look like a year from now or five years from now. Do the job right the first time as quickly as you can, and you may be left wondering where the next job will be. As a matter of fact, when workers in the specialty trades are good at what they do, they can work themselves out of a job. For many workers, this is extra added pressure that gets heaped on top of those surrounding deadlines, schedules, budgets, and protecting life and limb.

The pressure translates to mental strain. And the awareness of the mental health issues on a job is a topic that takes courage to tackle. It’s a topic that needs attention from the top down in order to preserve the future production in a quintessential industry. Someone needs to take the first step. Mental health is just as important as taking care to not get injured by equipment or a fall.

I believe it starts with conversations and building relationships. We all must be willing to be “uncomfortable” and doing things differently if we hope to begin to beneficially address this crisis.

On the jobsite, workers have an opportunity to talk with others with humility and authenticity. A step in the right direction involves taking time to build relationships with those around you. It’s difficult to pick up on the sometimes subtle clues of mental health issues if you don’t first know those around you on a personal level. It requires slowing down to get to know the true person that is working next to you on the jobsite.

In episode 36 of the Bridging the Gap podcast, Mike Zivanovic of the Chicago Pipefitters’ Local Union 597 starts this conversation to begin to destigmatize mental health in construction. Listen today for the full conversation. 

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