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Building Resilience in the Construction Industry

Suicide Remains One of the Largest Problems Builders Face


On job sites across the country, from high-rises to hometowns, the mental wellbeing of those who build our world is a topic we need to talk about.

When we talk about builders we often talk about safety, technological advancements and the hectic nature of job sites. However, the mental health of America’s construction industry continues to be a pressing concern.

In 2020, the CDC reported that the construction industry had one of the highest rates of suicide along with mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction workers. In fact, construction workers face a perfect storm of risk factors, the American Society of Safety Professionals found. The suicide rates in the construction and extraction fields are the exponentially higher per 100,000 (males = 66; females = 25), putting them with farmers, fishermen and forestry workers as the highest suicide rates among all occupational groups in the country.

A Recipe for Disaster; Isolation and Financial Strain

American construction workers aren't the only ones suffering. A study released by Colorado State University found that an estimated 1 billion people around the globe are suffering from mental illness.

According to their study, the CDC found that more than 90% of the U.S. construction workforce is male, and about 40% of them are between the ages of 35 and 64, which is a demographic with the highest risk of suicide in the general population.

If you combine these global demographic factors with the stoic and self-reliant nature of those who work in construction, you get a situation where those at the highest risk are the least likely to seek help, casting many into distress. The seasonality and constant fluctuations in the availability of work also add to the pressure building on job sites across the country.

Construction workers also have some of the highest rates of death from overdose compared to workers in other occupations, according to a CDC report. Among all occupations, construction workers had the highest rate of death from overdose.

Access to Services

Access to mental health services remains a challenge for many construction workers due to the variety of job site locations and the fluctuating demand for work. Barriers, such as stigma, cost and lack of providers, prevent many builders from even seeking the help they need, much less receiving it.

The dynamic range of skills and specialties in the construction industry make wellness strategies —  even the most well-developed — feel confusing or disconnected. From sheet metal workers, to plumbers, roofers, masons and carpenters, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Strategies for Improvement

Technology also plays a significant role in improving mental wellness in builders. Telehealth services have evolved and allow anyone to access mental health professionals remotely, while mobile apps and online platforms offer resources such as breathing and mindfulness exercises. This stuff may sound like nonsense, but you’d be foolish to think that.

Parallels with Veterans

Nearly 10% of construction workers are veterans, further complicating the fact that those two groups are acutely at a higher risk of suicide. The similarities in stress levels, financial instability and exposure to traumatic events all contribute to mental health decline.

Efforts to address mental health in both groups have involved promoting support networks aimed at reducing the ever-present “help stigma,” increasing awareness about warning signs while also providing resources and support to individuals and their families.

One lesson we learned from the connection between self harm and veterans is the power of research. Research on suicide prevention emphasizes the importance of evidence-based strategies that include education, access to counseling services, peer support programs and a variety of crisis intervention resources tailored to the specific needs of construction workers today.

By recognizing these similarities, policymakers, healthcare providers and advocacy groups can develop targeted interventions and support systems to address the mental health challenges faced on job sites from Miami to Seattle, ultimately working to bring awareness and a plan to improving overall wellbeing.

Community-based interventions have been successful in supporting veterans by creating safe spaces and by promoting peer support. By fostering a family atmosphere on job sites, a simple sense of belonging is often the catalyst to encourage open conversations and provides a conduit for seeking help.

The importance of evidence-based strategies when addressing mental health on job sites cannot be overstated. Just as effective awareness and treatment interventions for veterans are based on research and proven methods, mental health programs for the construction industry should also be grounded in evidence-based practices.

Advocacy for policy changes and increased funding for mental health services has been instrumental in improving mental health support for veterans. Advocacy efforts can be directed toward policymakers, forcing them to prioritize mental health initiatives and allocate resources to address the mental health crisis brewing in our builders.

Health Coverage

In addition to being difficult to talk about, seeking mental health services can also be quite costly, especially for those facing financial challenges due to unreliable or seasonal work. Limited insurance coverage or sky-high out-of-pocket expenses further deter construction workers from seeking professional help.

In 2015, health insurance coverage among construction workers stood at around 78%, lower than any other industry except agriculture. In the same year, 90% of workers across the United States had health insurance, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training (CCRT).

Among those workers with coverage, half received health insurance from their employer or union, 22% were independently covered through a family member and an additional 7% were covered by public programs.

Self-employed construction professionals, a vast majority of the population, were even less likely to have insurance. Approximately 74% of them had some form of health coverage in 2015, which included personal plans, family member plans or coverage from other sources like public programs.

Among union construction workers, 72% had health insurance, in contrast to about 38% among non-union workers, according to the CCRT’s report.


As mentioned earlier, construction crews have unique cultural norms that act as barriers to seeking treatment. These beliefs may discourage open discussions about mental well-being or lead to self-coping that will only make things worse.

The demanding nature of working long hours with your hands, outside, with seasonal variations in workload, can make it feel impossible for builders to prioritize their mental health.The culture of “showing up” is a powerful force at job sites, quietly pressuring even ailing workers from taking time off for selfcare.

Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach that includes increasing access to mental health services, reducing stigma through education and awareness campaigns, making mental health care more affordable, training more mental health professionals to work with our construction communities.

Article written by Allen P. Roberts Jr.

Catalyst Communication

Contractors Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.