mental health awareness week

How to stop feeling lonely – Mental Health Awareness Week 

We touched on the subject last week when we reported on Craig Sanders’ journey through the Pennine Cycleway but, in honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, we thought it crucial to address the UK construction industry’s poor history around mental health. 

But first, let’s talk about the official statistics

  • Every day in the UK, two construction workers take their own lives. For context, that’s 700 suicides per year
  • 48% of construction workers have taken time off owing to unmanageable stress. 
  • A third of the industry’s workers suffer with daily high levels of anxiety. 
  • Over two thirds believe the stigma surrounding mental health keeps them from bringing it up with their employers and/or colleagues. 
  • 91% admit to feeling overwhelmed. 
  • 26% of all construction workers surveyed have experienced suicidal thoughts. 

These atrocious numbers aren’t exactly breaking news to anyone but that doesn’t make them any less shocking. 

Of course the construction industry isn’t the only one affected by mental health issues but various aspects of the day-to-day of a tradesperson can contribute to increasing feelings of loneliness and anxiety, which, as we all know, can very quickly snowball into riskier territory. 

Given that this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme is Loneliness and all the ways in which we can help combat it, here at TOOLKiT we thought it important to try to understand just how much loneliness can affect a construction worker. 

From long hours to a complete absence of a routine, tradespeople’s daily life can be a lot lonelier than some of us necessarily realise. Not only is reliable payment a constant struggle for a lot of the industry’s professionals, but they frequently work to tight deadlines either in isolation or on sites away from their families. 

The effects loneliness can have on our systems are nothing if not well-documented and it’s almost ludicrous to think that so many of us are going around like this and not speaking up. 

Among many other conditions, loneliness is often linked to: 

  • Sleep problems 
  • Feelings of stress and mental exhaustion 
  • Altered brain function 
  • Increased risk of heart problems and strokes 
  • Poor decision-making 
  • Memory problems 
  • Higher risk of substance abuse 

Now, it can be easy to read through this and think: “Just go to the pub, mate, and talk to whoever’s already sitting there”. That can often be the problem, however: people don’t always find it easy to open up and admit out loud that they’ve been feeling lonely. 

It’s not like there should be any shame associated with doing so, but the truth is the stigma around mental health is very much alive still, even if strides have been made in recent years to try to normalise speaking up about what you may be feeling.  

So, here are a few tips we’ve put together to try to help anyone out there who may be facing these issues and might be reticent about broaching the subject with someone: 

  • Be kind to yourself (and others, of course) 
  • Try to plan your days ahead so you can determine how your time is spent 
  • Adopt a pet – they’re great companions and will always let you complain about your crappy day at work without interrupting 
  • Use social media wisely (it can be a poisoned apple in disguise) 
  • (Re)discover a hobby 
  • Practice self-care regularly 
  • Go outside and move your body – sounds cliché but it really helps 
  • Find a community where you feel you belong (this can be online, a class, club, etc) 
  • Read a book – sure, you’ll still be alone, but this time you’ll (hopefully) be completely engrossed in a separate reality 
  • Do some volunteering 
  • Give therapy a chance 

If you’ve tried all of these and still can’t help feeling the loneliness creep up, Tinder is always an interesting last resort. Yes, stranger-danger is still real, but sometimes it can be easier to talk to a complete stranger than someone you’ve known your entire life. Go figure… 

On a more serious note, if you or someone you know has been experiencing loneliness, anxiety, stress and/or depression, the Lighthouse Club runs a 24/7 confidential helpline for construction industry workers in the UK and Ireland. You can call them up anytime or, if you find that you are uncomfortable speaking or don’t have the space for a private conversation, you can text or email them directly. 

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