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  • Sean Cuthbert

Mental Health for Tradies and Construction Workers

On the back on International Women’s Day, it’s a good time to look at the expectations put on men in this changing world in terms of their emotional health. Sure, there’s still an unspoken stereotype of men being expected to tough, strong, but mostly pretty unemotional. While this may be getting watered down there is probably no industry where this is still evident, than for blokes working in construction and as tradies.


There is a lot of pressure placed on tradies to work hard. They do long hours, carry out physically demanding tasks in often pretty challenging weather conditions. This can leave men feeling burnt out and disconnected from friends, family and themselves. Ignoring and not dealing with impacts of this demanding work schedule can manifest itself in a range of unhealthy behaviours: gambling, drug and alcohol use, relationship conflicts, excessive pornography, relationship/family breakdowns and bad financial choices. Eventually, ‘sucking it up’ and remaining silent can lead men to feeling anxious, depressed, angry and even suicidal.

Being a tradie is physically demanding, so much so that the job itself has a shelf-life into a man’s early 50s. While there has probably been a significant shift in the past decade to discussions of keeping in shape physically, discussions of mental health are still not a common subject talked about on break or at after-works drinks.


Having worked with hundreds of tradies who somehow found their way to therapy (usually coerced by frustrated partners, mandated by the court, or at men themselves at their wits ends) I can say with confidence that showing emotions (other than anger), crying and talking about emotional struggles are still not part of the tradie culture.


Spending as much time on looking after your mental and emotional health as your physical health is a key part of having a full and satisfying life. Unfortunately, there is still an entrenched tradie culture that’s rooted in the traditional macho idea that makes it difficult for men to speak freely about their struggles. The “you’ll be right mate” mindset and fear of being seen to be weak means that tradies are remaining silent about their issues. Any culture that emphasises self-reliance over help-seeking is going to put a cap on a man’s ability to deal effectively with his issues and thrive. It’s one of the key reasons why tradies who show up for counselling only do so once life has fallen apart, or can see no other way out than seeking help.


Next steps if you’re struggling:


Talk to someone, become knowledgeable, and take concrete steps to care of yourself:

Whether it be one of your tradie mates, your partner or a friend, or even a professional, it’s essential to get it off your chest and not push down your current issues, worries and concerns. Similarly, if you notice a mate a work who might be struggling, find the time to have that conversation with him about how they’re feeling and if everything is going ok. These small steps go to the heart of shifting the stigma that exists in this industry around talking and seeking help.

Becoming more knowledgeable and aware about the impact of work stress on your mental health is a key point. There is so much information out there that is freely available, including many self-help treatment resources that you can access. Being aware of mental health conditions, warning signs, symptoms and available support services can be lifesaving, for you and your work mates.

It might be time to address your struggles with some really proactive steps like taking a break from work. While this may be extremely difficult depending on the culture of your workplace, it may literally be a lifesaving move.


Seeking professional health:


To put it very clearly - early intervention is best. You don’t need to hit rock bottom, or contemplate suicide to consider seeking help. In fact, it actually makes the recovery process a bit easier if you go into treatment as early as possible or as soon as you notice you are struggling. There are several organisations out there that can assist those in the construction industry with mental health issues. If you’re unsure how to go about this, a conversation with a knowledgeable GP is a great place to start. Hopefully they can direct you to the best service locally who can provide support and counselling specifically for men.

Regardless of where you’re based, I’m also happy refer you to a local service who can assist you.


Helplines:

Mens Line Australia – 1300 78 99 78

Mates in Construction – 1300 642 111

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Organisations:

Incolink - https://www.incolink.org.au/wellbeing-support-services/247-counselling/

Mates in Construction - http://matesinconstruction.org.au/vic/

© 2020 created by Sean Cuthbert, Clinical Psychologist