Within the construction industry, there is a stigma that workers should be strong, and tough, and not talk about their feelings. However, shocking figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that from 2010 to 2015, there were more suicides within the construction industry than in any other profession. Not only that, but according to Samaritans, suicide kills six times as many construction workers than falls.
And with so many people suffering in silence within the industry, three construction workers have decided to share their stories to try and help raise awareness.
Our first story comes from Chris Stear, a plasterer from Basildon. As a child, Chris always had ups and downs with his mood. However, at the age of sixteen, Chris’ grandad died of Cancer. It was at this point, that Chris feels his mental health issues were triggered.
Struggling without a diagnosis, it wasn’t until his early twenties that Chris was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. He describes: “it’s a bit of a rare thing in this country and we don’t recognise Bipolar disorder, so I spent many years visiting the doctors and being told I just had depression.”
His struggling mental health eventually had an impact on his work though with Chris having to leave the trade due to the issues he faced. Alongside this, Chris also revealed that at points, his mental health had become so bad, that he even considered suicide.
He admits: “it’s something that will never go away. Something I have to live with.”
“It’s very hard. There’s not a lot of information or help out there for it, unfortunately.”
Luckily though, Chris was surrounded by support. With his mother by his side, she was able to provide him with the invaluable care and advice he needed. Not only that but by educating himself and doing the research, Chris also learnt to recognise the triggers for his mental episodes.
From within the construction industry, Chris also found a great deal of help. Specifically, by contributing towards the Band of Builders. For the past few months, Chris has been involved with the cause admitting: “it’s such a stigmatism in the trade because we’re obviously seen as the big British burly builder.”
“You don’t realise until you talk to a lot of people, it really hits home. It’s a massive deal.”
Our second story comes from Sam Jones, a twenty-three-year-old bricklayer. Sam revealed that his issues with mental health began at the young age of six. This continued into his early teens where he eventually moved to a domestic violence refuge centre. Sam described: “from there on, I got into crime and drugs and it sent me downhill mentally.”
“I didn’t notice I was mentally unstable until one day I just broke down in tears at the doctors.”
It was at this point that Sam was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, alongside displays of agoraphobia as well. To cope with this, Sam went on to use drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, this then had a massive impact on his career. He lost his tools, and his customers due to his reputation regarding drug taking. No one would employ him, and Sam struggled for money.
Eventually, this then also led to Sam becoming homeless for two years, sleeping wherever he could find shelter. He described: “every day I was going to a local petrol station where I knew builder’s filled up in the morning on the way to work asking if they had a day’s labour for £20, £30, whatever they could pay me.”
Alongside his financial troubles, Sam also lost contact with his children too. Eventually, it all became too much and he considered taking his own life. Stood on the edge of a motorway bridge, Sam is thankful someone pulled him back and stopped him from ending his life. He admits: “I feel now that it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
“It won’t make things go away, it’ll just put your problems onto your family and your friends.”
“I find that when you bottle things up inside you can’t keep it all in. It gets too much.”
To cope with his mental health issues, Sam was able to talk to people at his local hospital. He found this the best way to cope as he couldn’t bring himself to talk to his family or friends. He felt too ashamed. But talking to strangers allowed him to improve his mental health, focusing on his new hobbies such as abseiling and cycling to lift his mood and keep his mind at ease.
Our final story comes from Lucas Mepham, an ex-army member and a part of Combat to Construction, currently training to become a carpenter. Initially, Lucas’ mental health issues were triggered whilst in the army. With his marriage breaking down, Lucas turned to heavy drinking and gambling as a way to cope. In turn, this, unfortunately, led to the loss of access to his children.
Struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, Cris describes that he, “struggled with it all. I wasn’t in a good place mentally.”
“I found it difficult to talk to people about it because obviously there’s such a stigma attached to mental health. People think that if you’ve got a mental health problem there’s something wrong with you.”
He continues: “it is alright to talk about it. It’s not something you should keep to yourself. There are a lot of organisations out there to help you out and talk to you if you’re struggling.”
“Obviously, it’s a difficult thing, something a lot of people won’t want to talk about. I mean, I didn’t want to talk about it myself.”
Lucas was able to eventually learn to manage his mental health though, and for him, this was due to the support of his friends and family. Alongside this, he also found that his new career in construction also enabled him to gain more control of his life and his mood swings too.