These figures are not a blip but the continuation of a worrying trend. Figures from the East Kent Health Authority for the same time period also found that 16% of suicides were committed by construction workers. For the country as a whole, the Samaritans suggest that construction workers make up around 10% of all male suicides. This is higher than nearly every other industry group.
The alarming number of suicides has prompted UCATT to bring the issue to the attention of the government. UCATT eastern general secretary Bryan Rye has committed to taking the figures to the Department of Health to highlight the problem. And Leeds Metropolitan fellow Phil Clegg says he will also attempt to shed more light on the issue by writing a paper on the subject.
There are many theories as to why suicides are so prevalent among construction workers. The fact that the industry is predominantly male is relevant as men make up 75% of all suicide cases. Mental health charity Mind also says that unskilled workers are more likely to kill themselves than those in skilled employment.
The Federation of Master Builders is acutely aware of the dangers and has alerted its members to two help groups: The Samaritans and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – a helpline offering advice and counselling for 15 to 24-year-old men. Small contractors are particularly susceptible to depression as they are often under financial pressure in addition the normal stresses of working in a competitive, difficult industry.
UCATT’s Rye also suggests that poor industrial relations could be adding to stress. He says suicides are higher in January, Easter and the summer and adds that a lack of holiday pay for 70-80% of construction workers means earnings are at their lowest when the demand on bank balances is at its highest.
Long contracts away from home can also contribute to feelings of depression. Loneliness is often a problem for those working away from their families, particularly if they get distant postings abroad.
Construction’s macho culture must also take some of the blame. The tendency to ignore a problem and “just get on with it” can lead to the unhealthy bottling-up of emotions. It is important for all those suffering to remember that a word with a friend or colleague can help lift a bad mood, and if nobody is available, there is always help and advice on the other end of the phone.