There are sensitive themes in this post, so please if you are suffering from any kind of mental health symptoms, please read with discretion.
Did you know that in Australia construction workers are more than twice as likely to suicide than other people in Australia?*
Apprentices are two and a half times more likely to die by suicide than other young men their age (no statistics for female apprentices at this stage).*
And chillingly construction workers are SIX times more likely to die from suicide than from workplace accidents.*
Tradies are not immune to mental health illnesses or anxiety.
Life can be hard as a tradie.
The majority of tradespeople that I worked with were men who were the breadwinners for their family. The feast or famine environment in the construction industry when it comes to work availability can be extremely worrying for tradespeople – men especially. Ongoing changes with Workplace Health and Safety and the daily stress of meeting deadlines and managing money in or out can add unnecessary anxiety on tradespeople. Running a trade business can be very stressful.
The problem with tradesmen is that their blokey exterior can disguise what is happening with their health on the inside. I worked with plumbers that would joke about other tradesmen they knew who had ‘head issues’ or were ‘f-cked in the brain.’ Depression is not something to be laughed at or made fun of.
When I was a third year plumbing apprentice, finishing my last block of Tafe, my dad rang me to tell me that a dear friend and mentor to Jacob and I had passed away due to suicide. I remember the moment I was told and what I was doing. I was pulling a 40mm pipe branch from a 100mm copper pipe. I nearly dropped the oxy-torch and my phone. I knew little about mental illness at the time and I had a wave of emotions roll through me. One of the older apprentices noticed my reaction to the phone call and asked me if I was alright. When I told him the news I had been told he joked about it by doing a noose motion around his neck. I brushed off the reaction at the time because no matter what age the apprentices were, they could be very insensitive. But this is an example of the type of attitude that some men have towards mental health and suicide.
Depression is a serious illness. It is not a weakness, but it’s torrential mind hammering can make one feel weak.
The stigma around men – especially tradies, having depression and suicidal thoughts needs to be changed. The most important message that I want to get across in this post is that if you are a tradie and you know that you don’t feel right or you have battles within your mind, you need to face the beast and get help. Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Mates in Construction are all organisations that offer services to assist you.
You are not weak. Depression doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone. You show real strength the moment you put your hand up and admit actually I’m not alright and I think I need help.
Today is R U Ok day and it’s to promote life-changing conversations with people who are doing it tough. I’m going to encourage trade businesses to go one step further and ask their staff ‘R U Ok Mate?’ And this conversation should be mandatory in tool box talks and a standard practice written up in Workplace Health and Safety manuals.
Tradies are a much needed occupation within society so it’s important to look out for our tradespeople who are doing it tough. If you aren’t a tradesperson, have you ever thought about your part in giving a tradesperson a job rather than doing the job yourself? Just some food for thought.
Next time you see a tradie, why not ask them ‘R U OK mate?’ Who knows where and what that question can lead to.
Are you surprised by the statistics stated above? What can you do to raise awareness about mental health?
*Statistics taken from Mates in Construction website.