There’s an assumption that men in our society have to be strong and stoic; that displays of emotions need to be kept to a minimum, whatever the circumstances. But when it comes to mental health problems, keeping it all inside is doing more harm than good.
For men aged 45 and under in the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death, and men in the trades are three times more likely to commit suicide than the average man. Added to this, is the fact that women are in the minority in this industry, and may feel that there are expectations on them to maintain a certain demeanour. The result is an industry rife with mental health issues, outdated stereotypes and struggling employees.
The contributing factors
The construction industry and associated trades are incredibly male-dominated fields, which only serves to exacerbate the issues around opening up and talking about how they feel. The result is that many men suffer in silence to the detriment of their mental health. From demanding hours and physically demanding work to the stressful deadlines and time spent away from home and loved ones, it’s no wonder that tradespeople are more at risk from mental health challenges.
An influx of stress
One of the common triggers for mental health issues in the trades is stress. It is important for companies and associated organisations industry-wide to identify that mental health struggles are on the rise. The electrical training company Trade Skills 4U is one such outfit that has identified rising cases of burnout and work-related stress in their sector in recent years. A spokesperson at the company puts this down to a ‘combination of Brexit, shifts in the economy and increased tensions with suppliers.’ In addition, the current cost-of-living crisis and financial worries have further exacerbated stress in their industry which is all taking its toll.
In general, workers in the likes of construction, plumbing or electrical firms are more likely to have a range of stress-related issues, such as:
- feelings of hopelessness
- increasing levels of anxiety
- rising bouts of anger
- ongoing problems with sleep
People then struggle to communicate with their family, friends or co-workers and even self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to cope with the stress.
The rise in workloads post-pandemic coupled with financial concerns means the risk of burnout and anxiety is heightened, and the lack of awareness in this industry around mental health issues means that tradespeople feel alone in their struggles.
When lockdowns were lifted, there was a tentative sigh of relief that workloads may return to normal. But while social distancing may have been removed from the equation, the issues surrounding it increased. Pressures from customers and suppliers, a backlog of workloads to deal with, and the worry about job security have all increased tensions in businesses, and workers are feeling the strain.
Becoming emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted due to job-related stress is becoming an increasing issue. As Mind advocate Jack Moore highlights, ‘Workplace burnout can be a real problem, not only for businesses that see staff with lower productivity and efficiency – but it can also be a huge issue for workers themselves. Suffering burnout can lead to poor performance, becoming disillusioned at work, and can detrimentally affect many other aspects of mental health.’
Work culture also plays a key role in our mental health. From insults on the worksite and abuse from customers to the unspoken belief that men need to maintain a stoic exterior, it’s no wonder that so many people working in this industry are feeling the impact on their mental health now more than ever.
A need to talk
Well-being at work is a complex topic and one that encapsulates so many different factors. But it’s widely agreed that it needs to be a priority. The HSE believes that the best course of action is speaking out as early as possible and being sensitive when supporting colleagues and employees.
A recent survey, highlighting work-related stresses experienced by tradespeople, indicated that a concerning 64% admitted to experiencing work-related stress at least once a month, with the 18-24 age group being most likely to face mental health challenges. Even more worrying are the findings that more than four out of five of those interviewed did not feel sufficiently comfortable talking to others about their mental health. It’s a problem that’s affecting so many, yet so few feel like they can speak up when they’re affected.
Checking in with friends, family and colleagues when times are tough is essential to break this stigma and raising awareness of the issues in this industry. It can do so much to create a sense of camaraderie among teams and helps workers feel less alone in their struggles.
A change in the work environment
Employers also need to be aware of the warning signs and be familiar with the stresses placed on tradespeople so they can mitigate them where possible. Our work environment plays such a key part in our mental health, and it’s one of the few factors that we do have control over.
Since men typically find it harder to talk about how they’re feeling, in male-dominated industries such as these, there needs to be greater care taken to alleviate the concerns and place less pressure on workers.
Tradespeople may be less willing to come forward and ask for support, so it needs to be there ready for them so they don’t need to feel like they have to wear their heart on their sleeve in order to seek help. The consequences of untreated mental health issues can be fatal, and it’s something that employers in this industry need to prioritise.
The trades industry is constantly busy and staff are likely to be faced with tight deadlines and unsociable shifts, which means achieving work-life balance can be tough. The need for more workers in this field also means there’s immense pressure on current employees to do more work in less time. It’s at these points in time where mental health can slip, which can only spell bad news for employees and employers alike.
Positive company culture is one of the most effective ways construction workers and tradespeople can be supported. In any industry, there will be highs and lows, but in industries as stressful and high-risk as these, having a safe space where people feel comfortable is essential.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.