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Construction Workers Struggle With a High Prevalence of Mental Distress, and This Is Associated With Their Pain and Injuries

Jacobsen, Henrik Borsting PsyD; Caban-Martinez, Alberto DO, MPH, PhD; Onyebeke, Lynn C. MSc; Sorensen, Glorian MPH, PhD; Dennerlein, Jack T. PhD; Reme, Silje Endresen PsyD, PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: October 2013 - Volume 55 - Issue 10 - p 1197–1204
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e31829c76b3
Original Articles

Objectives: We aimed to investigate how mental distress was associated with pain and injuries in a convenience sample of construction workers.

Methods: A cross-sectional, mental health assessment was conducted in a convenience sample of construction workers (N = 172). A subsample participated in a clinical interview (n = 10). We used a cutoff (1.50 or greater) on Hopkins Symptom Checklist–25 to determine substantial mental distress and determined associations with pain and injury outcomes.

Results: The prevalence of substantial mental distress was 16% in the workers. This was supported by follow-up clinical interviews where 9 of 10 workers fulfilled the criteria for a mental disorder. Substantial mental distress was associated with both injury rate and self-reported pain.

Conclusion: This pilot study strongly suggests the need for rigorous studies on construction worker mental health and how it affects their work and well-being.

From the Harvard School of Public Health (Drs Jacobsen, Caban-Martinez, Sorensen, Dennerlein, and Reme and Ms Onyebeke), Northeastern University (Dr Dennerlein), and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Dr Sorensen), Boston, Mass; Uni Health (Dr Reme), Uni Research, Bergen, Norway; and Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Dr Jacobsen), Trondheim, Norway.

Address correspondence to: Henrik Borsting Jacobsen, PsyD, Departments of Public Health and Circulation and Medical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, NTNU, PO Box 8905, MTFS, 7491 Trondheim, Norway (

This work was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (U19 OH008861) for the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Work, Health and Well-being, and a grant from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (grant T32 AR055885) to the Clinical Orthopedic and Musculoskeletal Education and Training Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and the Liberty Mutual Harvard School of Public Health Program for Occupational Safety and Health.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2013 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine