Managing Mental Health in the Construction Industry: A Personal Journey of Self-Care, Vulnerability, and Support

Today, I feel compelled to share a personal story about managing mental health while working in the construction industry. It is a topic that weighs heavily on my heart because I know firsthand the challenges faced by individuals who suffer from bouts of depression or have difficulty seeking help when working through challenging situations. It can become incredibly stressful when working in an industry still grappling with how to address the mental health needs of its workers. And while it has not been easy, the construction industry continues to navigate the complexities of supporting those with mental health concerns. In this personal account, I will delve into my recent experiences and highlight the profound lessons I have learned that apply to the industry.

The Recent Challenges

Around September 2022, my daughter discussed celebrating Christmas Eve with family and friends at our home. It had been a long time since we did, so I said why not? Let's do it. Alena created the invitations and sent them out to everyone. Initially, she did not receive many responses, but as the day got closer, almost everyone responded with a confirmation of attendance. We were both very excited and planned for about twenty to thirty guests.

We entertained with music, good food, and games the day of, and everyone was engaged in great conversations. At some point during the early evening, we realized everyone Alena invited was there, plus a few extras. The more, the merrier, we thought. So with the festivities, we were socializing and having fun with family and friends for several hours. I was in my living room talking with my sister when suddenly I heard a commotion in the family room. There it was, two family members engaged in an all-out fight on my couch. I pulled one off the other and escorted one to the front door to separate them. It was complete chaos, with adults yelling, kids crying, and me standing in total dismay that this was happening in my house on Christmas Eve!

Because these were two young adults, it was not as simple as saying stop and let's talk this through. No, both were out for blood, so to keep my family safe, I opted to call the police. Once the police arrived, one of them had already left, but my house was in utter turmoil by then, with broken dishes, planters spilled over, young kids afraid of what would happen next, and my family in shock. As I stood there looking around my home, I broke down and could not believe what had happened. After giving an account to the police officers, cleaning the house, and apologizing profusely to everyone as they left our home, I had a moment to reflect on what just occurred.

Facing the Trauma

As a father, you pride yourself on protecting your family, but that day felt like a complete failure. Seeing my kids crying, upset, and trying to protect their little cousins was overwhelming. It felt like a violation, and I had not realized that the trauma was just beginning to settle in. The next morning, Christmas Day, I recall sitting downstairs early that morning, looking around as I played back the night and how I felt. I was sad, angry, distraught, and physically and emotionally exhausted.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, the holiday period was over, and it was time to head back to the office, so off I went on my regular fifty-minute commute at 5:30 AM. Fortunately, that morning, I had a regularly scheduled counseling session via Zoom before starting work. It was not my initial intent to share the event details with my counselor, but thankfully I did, and she wondered why I was at work after suffering such a traumatic event. I thought I was good; it's been a couple of weeks. How wrong I was!

Getting Real with Myself and Others

It was great to see my colleagues after a long break, and we engaged in the normal "How was your holiday" small talk. As I listened to the familiar stories of pleasant engagement with family members, it hit me that I was not okay. It became evident when it came time for me to share my holiday break activities. Interestingly, I shared the raw truth with them and quickly discovered I needed to go home right then. So, I did just that after closing the loop on a few work items.

Administering Self-Care and Asking Myself Tough Questions

I took the trek back home with a sense of relief and pride that I chose myself over everything in real time. Once home, I slept, had quiet time, prayed, and reflected on where I was. I thought to myself:

  • Why do you feel the need to be superhuman all the time?
  • Why are you more inclined to support others before considering yourself?
  • Why is it hard to allow yourself to put your figurative oxygen mask on first?

This traumatic situation forced me to confront these questions and more. Still, the critical nugget is I allowed myself to become vulnerable towards people I would typically not and respond in a way that promoted self-care. It was an empowering moment.

I realize there are no cookie-cutter solutions to addressing mental health, but I would like to share what I learned through my experience.

Critical Lessons for Mental Health and Self-Care

  1. Acknowledge and process traumatic experiences: I faced a traumatic event during a holiday gathering, which left me feeling overwhelmed and violated. It is essential to recognize and address the emotional impact of such experiences.
  2. Seek professional support: I attended a counseling session after the traumatic event and shared the details with my counselor. Seeking professional help allows for a safe space to discuss emotions and receive guidance on coping mechanisms.
  3. Be honest with yourself and others: Instead of putting up a facade, I was honest about my feelings when interacting with colleagues. Opening up about struggles can lead to understanding, empathy, and support from others.
  4. Having a supportive work environment: I have always known that my company was supportive, but my experience has always been primarily providing support for others, not accepting it for myself. By receiving the help that I needed, I felt valued and respected.
  5. Prioritize self-care: I realized the need for self-care, so I went home and took time for myself—this involved activities like sleeping, reflecting, and engaging in quiet time to recharge and process emotions.
  6. Ask yourself tough questions: I confronted essential questions about my tendency to prioritize others over myself and the need to be a constant pillar of strength. Reflecting on these questions can help identify patterns and areas for personal growth.
  7. Embrace vulnerability: The traumatic situation made me vulnerable and open to people I would not usually confide in. This vulnerability promoted self-care and fostered a sense of empowerment.

These lessons highlight the significance of acknowledging one's emotions, seeking support, and prioritizing self-care in managing mental health while working in a challenging industry like construction.

Closing Words

In the demanding construction industry, prioritizing mental health, self-care, and embracing vulnerability can be both a struggle and crucial for individuals. The nature of the industry often involves high-pressure situations, tight deadlines, physically demanding work, and a culture that values toughness and resilience. As a result, mental health concerns may be overlooked or stigmatized, leaving workers feeling isolated and unsupported.

However, recognizing the importance of mental health and self-care is crucial for individuals in construction. The stress and challenges of the industry can take a toll on both physical and emotional well-being. Ignoring these issues can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, strained relationships, and even more severe mental health conditions.

Taking care of one's mental health and practicing self-care is not a sign of weakness but a necessary step towards maintaining overall well-being. It requires acknowledging personal limitations, seeking help, and implementing strategies to cope with stress effectively. By prioritizing self-care, individuals in the construction industry can improve their resilience, reduce the risk of mental health problems, and enhance their overall job performance.

Furthermore, embracing vulnerability can create a supportive and empathetic work environment. When workers feel comfortable discussing their mental health struggles and seeking help, it fosters a culture of understanding and compassion. It allows colleagues and employers to provide the necessary support and accommodations, improving well-being and job satisfaction.

We can promote a healthier and more supportive work environment by acknowledging individuals' unique challenges in the construction industry and emphasizing the importance of mental health, self-care, and vulnerability. Taking steps towards creating a workplace that values the well-being of its employees can ultimately lead to a more productive, engaged, and resilient workforce in the construction industry.

Our construction project site or company culture significantly shapes mental health progress within our industry. Let's consider how it can be a source of support or an obstacle to better mental well-being. Together, let's strive for an industry where everyone feels seen, supported, and able to prioritize their mental health.

Henry Nutt III

Preconstruction Executive, Southland Industries