‘Just suck it up’: how mental health stigma is killing us

Growing up in 1970s Belfast, the mantra of “just suck it up, son” has stayed with me.

I used to believe mental health issues didn’t affect me and others should seek help from qualified professionals.

But my perspective has changed during my tenure as the Director of FMB. Conversations with contractors and clients have revealed the inevitable stresses and strains of this industry. They have accepted these challenges as part of their job, but I have witnessed how these pressures can escalate, leading to burnout and long-term consequences.

Financial concerns, health issues and relationship strains contribute to the burdens we carry even before we cross the door into work. Personally, I have learned that mental health, like physical health, can fluctuate between good and poor states. Let’s think about our physical health. If someone breaks a leg or has a serious illness, they seek help and, rightly so, draw sympathy and support. 

If my anxiety levels are high or worry in my life over an issue affects me, do I seek support? Probably not. I tough it out. I don’t show weakness and / or admit I need help. Now that might get me through a day, a week or two, but what could that lead to over a longer period?

I have come to appreciate that a mental disorder IS NOT the result of personal weakness. It is a medical condition that causes significant distress and disrupts a person’s thinking, emotional control and behaviour. It can affect anyone, regardless of age, culture or background. Sadly, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many from seeking treatment. 

I feel proud to work within the construction industry as part of FMB. It has provided me with many opportunities to admire high quality work and people. Working in construction can be extremely rewarding but also has its challenges.

The suicide rate within our industry is alarming and evokes a sense of shame. Two construction workers in the UK and Ireland commit suicide each day, and the industry’s suicide rate is three times higher than other sectors. Working in an industry that contributes to such loss of life is devastating. The question for us all is: do we need to personally know the individuals who reach this point to want to improve what we do?

There is much work to be done. We have a collective responsibility to prioritise mental health as we do physical safety, for both current and future generations. Trade bodies have established support networks, and FMB proudly collaborates with the Lighthouse Club. FMB NI is part of the Building Mental Health Alliance (BMHA), addressing challenges faced by construction workers and families. The upcoming new BMHA website will provide resources, including videos.

Our goal is to create an accessible awareness campaign, showing how everyone can offer support. Your involvement in the industry can contribute to its growth. While we may not have all the answers, each of us can play a crucial role in eliminating stigma and making a real impact on lives.

Support resources:

Reach out to: www.lighthouseclub.org for mental health and wellbeing support.For information on BMHA’s CSR mental health module, visit: www.nisg.org.uk/building-mental-health-alliance-reaches-major-milestone


Federation of Master Builders

T: +44 (0)28 9446 0416

E: fmbni@fmb.org.uk