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How Workplace Affect Mental Health? Canada Construction

Updated: Sep 16

What are Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses are health challenges that can affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges, but with the right support, a person can get back on a path to sustainability and wellness.

There are many different types of mental illness that affect people in different ways. Within each mental illness, people may have very different symptoms and challenges. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses.


  • More than 6.7 million people in Canada are living with a mental health problem or illness today. By comparison 2.2 million people in Canada have type 2 diabetes.

  • Mental health problems and illnesses hit early in people’s lives; more than 28% of people aged 20-29 experience a mental illness in a given year. By the time people reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 people in Canada will have had or have a mental illness.

  • Suicide rates have increased 40% over the last 2 decades, specifically the construction industry will lose 54 workers for every 100,000.

  • In 2018 the construction industry lost 33 lives to work related deaths and 133 to suicide.

  • People with a mental illness are twice as likely to have a substance use problem compared to the general population. At least 20% of people with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem. For people with schizophrenia, the number may be as high as 50%.

  • Similarly, people with substance use problems are up to 3 times more likely to have a mental illness. More than 15% of people with a substance use problem have a co-occurring mental illness.

  • The economic burden of mental illnesses in Canada on the health care system is estimated to be over $51 billion per year. This includes health care costs, lost productivity and criminal justice costs.

  • An additional $6.3 billion was spent on uninsured mental health services and time off work for depression and distress that was not treated by the health care system.

Why is Mental Health important?

The onset of most mental illnesses occurs during adolescence and young adulthood. This affects educational achievement, occupational or career opportunities and successes, and the formation and nature of personal relationships. The effect extends throughout an individual’s life for example the importance of mental health at construction greater the number of episodes of illness that an individual experiences, the greater the degree of lasting disability. Receiving and complying with effective treatment and having the security of strong social supports, adequate income, housing and educational opportunities are essential elements in minimizing the impact of mental illness.

Mental Health Disorders

Each illness has its own symptoms. The following are a few common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents:

  • Excessive worrying or fear

  • Feeling excessively sad or low

  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

  • Avoiding friends and social activities

  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people

  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy

  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite

  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality ”lack of insight”

  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

There is no one symptom or group of symptoms common to all combinations. The combinations of concurrent disorders can be numerous.

How to come forward to colleagues and supervisors when you are dealing with mental health concerns

There is still a great deal of stigma related to mental illness in the workplace, and even someone who believes themselves to be open and understanding may harbor different feelings subconsciously, within the workplace setting. Given that it is so difficult to combat this stigma and infiltrate the workplace culture, it might feel insurmountable to come out and say “I am dealing with mental illness.”

It is important to feel comfortable with a supportive manager or supervisor, to speak with to say “I haven’t been doing well over the past few weeks and I need some time off as I am suffering from anxiety.” Even starting the conversation with a trusted individual at work helps. But not all workplaces are created equal, and if there is already a sense that no one talks about mental illness because it is looked down upon, this conversation will be that much harder.


Pink shirt day was started in 2007 by 2 young men who took a stand for how a 10-year-old boy was being treated for wearing a pink shirt. Since then, it has been globally recognized as Anti-Bullying Day.

It is no secret that the construction industry was built in a different era emotionally. Being fit for duty meant you were tough, you worked sick, you worked hurt, if you cried, it was because someone died (like a famous sports figure), you didn’t discuss feelings, and if you were disrespected at work you settled things the old-fashioned way.

Recent events around the world have put a stop to working sick; in some places it is grounds for dismissal. Compensation systems have been put in place, so you do not have to work hurt, and legislation was passed in 2012 by the government of BC to compensate for bullying and harassment in the workplace. Laws are great, but the challenge that lays before us now is how do we get to a respectful workplace within our industry?

One area to focus our efforts, is COMMUNICATION, and HOW we choose to use that tool.


A simple “good morning” can go all sorts of sideways when the person hearing responds with a harsh grumbly tone “what’s so good about it?” This pivotal moment will dictate how we choose to interact with this individual going forward, we will probably see them as grumpy.

Another good one “I can’t find the material; it wasn’t where you said”. “Are you F’ing blind?”, storms off yelling “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!”…Another pivotal moment.

EMOTIONS can rise quickly during conversations like these because we are reacting to how we are being treated.

We immediately feel disrespected, and will for the most part, do everything in our power to prove we are not the weaker of the two. Our minds become clouded fast, and while the emotional part of this only lasts a maximum of a minute, we keep ourselves in the disrespected loop, stewing, distracting ourselves from our work. If we lose the internal emotional battle we respond quickly and aggressively, and then the prevailing gloves come off and we have a full-blown screaming match on our hands.

Stewing is dangerous because it leads to malicious retaliation. People get hurt, equipment gets tampered with, and in some cases, the results are horrendous.

So where do we start?

First, we are all responsible for ourselves emotionally; how we choose to treat others will dictate how they choose to treat us.

Second, when we find ourselves in a situation of being disrespected, we need to pause and respond without emotion, and in the manner we prefer to be spoken too. This can be so very challenging as we can be quick to react to negative inference. By not reacting and remaining calm we place ourselves in a better position. If the person we are talking with continues to escalate, calmly let them know you are willing to have this discussion when they are calm or simply walk away from the negative interaction.

Tips and tricks to keeping your emotions in check:

Breath! Take a big breath in with your belly. Studies have shown changing your breathing pattern with slow steady breaths in followed by slow steady breaths out have a calming effect on your psychological state.

Think of something you enjoy that calms you down: fishing, camping, shopping, cooking, listening to music; breaking the internal monologue can be essential.

If all of the above seems to be overwhelming, talk to someone you trust to do a wellness check-in with the individual.

For yourself, pay attention to how you change. Being in the presence of challenging behavior will take a toll on your mental health. You may find yourself withdrawing from things you enjoy. Talking about your feelings regarding how you are being mistreated is not easy. If you are in a union speak with your shop steward for Employee Family Assistance Program information (EFAP). If you are not in a union check with your employer to see what they offer. The Canadian Mental Health contact phone number for British Columbia is available 24 hours a day. Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service, Suicide Hotline and 310Mental Support numbers are also available – See bulletin posted throughout the project, google, ask a supervisor or a friend for the contact information.

For extreme cases, as much as your internal monologue is beating you up, your best course of action is to report.

The topic of mental illness has an effect for all of us; whether it be a family member, a colleague or our own internal struggles. You are not alone in dealing with the issue of mental health.

Does anyone have any Mental Illness stories they would like to share?

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