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Few professions can compare with the trades when it comes to the taboo surrounding mental health.
There have been significant efforts recently to broaden the dialogue about mental health, but it remains a topic that is more often than not still avoided or papered over.
The stereotypical image of the ‘tough guy on the job’ has no place for weaknesses, and certainly no time to discuss feelings. But alarming statistics show that those within the trades suffer from some of the highest rates of mental issues and suicide in the UK today.
Suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 42, while those working in the construction sector are 1.6 times more likely to commit suicide than the average man in Britain. According to the Office of National Statistics of the 13,232 in-work suicides recorded between 2011 and 2015, 13. 2% of those were working in skilled construction or building trades - which is particularly alarming considering only 7% of the UK workforce was working in those trades at the time. While causes for mental health issues are wide-ranging and incredibly variable, those working in the trades are susceptible to a number of factors in particular:
Of course, there are some who enjoy working alone, but for many, working long hours on their own can be a cause of significant problems. We are after all social animals and sustained isolation can quickly turn into somebody’s worst nightmare with issues quickly snowballing. One of the most significant factors affecting those in the trades is the physical work environment. Long hours spent in cold, dark and, damp areas can have very real consequences on our health, which in turn can exacerbate existing mental health problems.
We live in a demanding world where customers often expect what may seem like the impossible. Falling behind on a project can lead to late nights as you frantically try to catch up. 24-hour call-outs may provide a decent income stream, but also brings sleep disruption, which in turn can lead to a whole host of issues.
While being self-employed ranks highly with most people, practical realities can be very different. If you struggle with motivation or don’t have a clue how to keep accurate tax or payment records, being the sole person responsible for it all can become overwhelming.
Also, being self-employed means being responsible for your own van & tools, with tool theft being insanely high, it doesn't help with fears of losing your livelihood in one foul evil swoop. See this post: Why you need a Van Alarm in 2020 & beyond
The trades have typically always been a brash, macho world. The pressure to conform to this, especially while in a large crowd, can easily become too much. The other side of the coin is stereotypical attitudes about women working in the trades. Females can be subjected to sexism, either on an institutional or even personal, level.
How to spot signs of mental health problems
It’s important to say from the outset, many people manage to appear completely level headed despite the turmoil that is going on behind the scenes. The way we often react to suicide by saying “I never thought he or she would be the type” is exactly the point. There are no concrete types or nailed on signs when it comes to mental health problems.
That being said, there a number of warning signs that could point to a bigger issue:
- Changes in mood and behaviour
- Insomnia/Irregular sleep patterns
- Problems making decisions
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, emptiness, hopelessness or pessimism
- Persistent sad or anxious mood.
Obviously, most of us have experienced all of these at some point in our lives. They are after all natural human emotions and it is perfectly normal for us to feel them from time to time. The problem comes with repeated cases. One bad day can easily happen, even a bad week can be excused with extenuating circumstances, but if you or somebody you work with is showing these kinds of signs for a prolonged period of time, it may be an indication of a serious issue.
What should I do if I think I am suffering from mental health issues
Firstly, be aware that the problems you are facing are completely normal, and huge numbers of people suffer from it every year in every single profession. To give you an idea of the scope, Expert Trades have just launched the first episode of a new podcast focusing on mental health issues within the trades. You can listen to it here:
- Talking - We recommend speaking to somebody as soon as possible. A trained professional is always ideal, but if you don’t feel like you are ready for that, then start with a friend or family member.
- Working - Take some time off from work if you can, as this can be hugely beneficial. If that isn’t an option, think about your schedule or the environment you are working in, and whether either of them can be improved.
- Lifestyle - Your lifestyle might not be enough to cause mental health problems, but it can absolutely aggravate it. Spending all weekend drinking, eating junk food in front of the TV is not going to help the situation. Eating healthily, exercising and drinking in moderation are some of the basic steps you can take to improving a situation.
What to do if you think somebody is suffering from mental health issues
This is an incredibly delicate matter and needs to be handled carefully. As we’ve already said, because of the prevailing attitudes and stereotypes within the trades, asking somebody out of the blue if they have any mental health problems is likely to lead to a negative response. But by approaching it delicately you may get a better response. If you are aware there are issues in somebody’s life, then focus on those issues by asking concrete questions. Try and stay away from vague general inquiries like, ‘how are you?’. It is such a formulaic question that more often than not is simply followed by the generic answer, ‘fine’. Instead, try using more direct questions focused on specific areas, which are more likely to be lead to open answers. If circumstances allow it, try to encourage them to take a little time off and seek professional help if needed.
What not to do
One of the main aspects of this taboo is the belief that if you need medical help for what is happening in your mind, it somehow makes you less of a person. This is, of course, absurd, and if somebody does take the step in that direction they need to be supported, and certainly not ridiculed in any way. The term ‘man up’ is now horribly outdated. It is now a thing of the past that men should shut up and carry on simply because they are men. Whatsmore it completely belittles the person you saying it to. We never know just what is going on in somebody’s mind, and by saying this you could be trivializing a serious issue. Encouraging a person to simply get on with it is one of the worst ways you could handle a situation like this.
At the same time, it’s important not to pressurise somebody even further. By pushing them to talk about something when they aren’t ready, you are likely to cause anger and resentment. If you feel this is the case, all you can do is make it clear that if they need somebody to talk with, you will be there, while also keeping an eye out for the deteriorating visual signs that were mentioned earlier.
Who can I contact if I or somebody else needs help?
As mentioned earlier, the conversation around mental health is growing rapidly, and as a result, the number of organisations that can help is quickly increasing. Below are four of the best out there at the moment.
Mind, the mental health charity 0300 123 3393 – Mind is one of the country’s leading charities dealing with mental health and can provide advice and support to anyone experiencing issues.
Construction Industry Helpline 0345 605 1956 – A charity dedicated to those in the construction industry which deals with any welfare problems.
The Samaritans 116 123 – The Samaritans provide confidential 24-hour support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts
Be. The Centre for Wellbeing 0191 6913500 – An excellent charity dealing with workplace wellbeing
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