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Mental Health In The Trades

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Mental health is just as important as physical health, so it’s essential to look after both.

Our mental health is made up of our moods, emotions and thoughts. As people, we will all experience various things, from feeling stress, sadness and negativity to calmness, happiness and positivity. Mood fluctuations are part of everyday life. Mental illness, however, can impact how people behave, feel and communicate with others.

Mental illness has been around for as long as humans have been, but we haven’t always understood it. While we may not yet have a foolproof way of improving mental illnesses, our understanding is much more advanced than it once was. Until recently, people hid mental illnesses and poor mental health away, unspoken of or assumed to be something else entirely.

Thankfully, more and more people have opened up about their struggles and experiences in recent years. So, as we work to break the stigma around mental illness and poor mental health, it is no longer the taboo subject it once was.

It’s important to remember mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Anyone can be living with mental illness despite having what seems to be a picture-perfect life.

Mental Health In The Trades

Mental Health In The Trades - Plumbing student working on copper pipes

Sadly, mental illness is not always something people can live with, and suicide is often something those suffering will at least consider.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 42. (Source: Pro Builder Mag). For those in the building and construction industry, the risk of suicide is 1.6 times higher than the national average. (Source: PBC Today).

From these figures alone, it’s clear that a problem within the trades industry is causing workers to struggle with mental health and mental illness. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has described it as a ‘silent epidemic’.

Why Do People In The Industry Suffer?

Sometimes there is no particular cause for a mental health-related issue or mental illness. Other times it can be a combination of stress, genetics, environmental factors or a chemical imbalance.

Working Late

The nature of the trades industry can regularly mean working late hours and being away from home. Being physically and mentally tired and away from your usual support system can take its toll. Emergency callouts and jobs running over the expected time eat away at your free time. Less free time means less time to relax and spend with friends and family.

Too little downtime can cause an increase in stress and loneliness, both of which can trigger mental illnesses such as depression.

Working Alone

If you work solo, being alone for much of your day may not be a root cause, but it could exacerbate problems. Humans are social animals. Numerous studies have found a link between those who work alone and the risk of depression. A study from HR magazine found that 17.8% of people said working alone contributed to poor mental health. With no one to talk to, laugh with or even vent frustrations to, etc., you can feel more alone than ever.

Self-Employment

Working in the trades on a self-employed basis can put a lot of weight on your shoulders. Not only does every decision come down to you, but when it’s up to you to find work, how do you switch off? In a recent Trades Talk, a weekly Twitter chat for those within the trades industry, many admitted that they struggle to switch off from work. As a sole trader, you don’t want to miss out on opportunities or let anyone down.

Gender Stereotypes

Mental Health In The Trades - Plumbing student installing a bath

Harmful gender stereotypes can also partly be to blame. “Extreme gender stereotypes are harmful because they don’t allow people to fully express themselves and their emotions.” (Source: Planned Parenthood). Traditionally, society expects men to be “strong”. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally, which means not showing emotions such as sadness. However, not showing them doesn’t mean not feeling them. Growing up hiding emotions leads to being unable to deal with them suitably.

Although the number of women in the trades is rising, men still heavily dominate the industry. Men are often wary of expressing emotions such as sadness or stress due to the fear of the repercussions and belief that they should ‘man up’. According to a YouGov report from 2018, 61% of young men felt they needed to “man up” due to the gender stereotypes put upon men. These results further prove that although men are beginning to open up more about their emotions, stereotypes remain, and we need to do more work to remove them.

Is The Digital Age To Blame?

In the previously mentioned Trades Talk chat, the host questioned whether the 24/7 digital age we live in is partly to blame? Is being connected 24/7 causing us to be overwhelmed? There’s no denying that technology has both positive and negative attributes.

The Bad

Though it depends on your industry, once you leave your place of work, your working day is over in many jobs. There are clear boundaries between work life and home life. However, as a trades worker, you’re always on call, particularly when you’re self-employed. People have become so used to instant responses, via phone call, text or email, that you could miss out on work if you do not reply soon enough. This fear of missing out leads to people having their phones on their person at all times and, in turn, results in a struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

You can find more tips in our blog post dedicated to helping people achieve a better work-life balance, but generally, workers need to set boundaries. For example, end your working day at a set time and stick to it.

The Good

On the other hand, technology has been hugely beneficial in helping to break the stigma surrounding mental illness. As an increasing number of people open up about poor mental health or living with mental illness, more people see that and join in the conversation. So as the number of those opening up and discussing mental health and illness increases, it becomes more normalised. And in turn, the stigma gradually fades away.

There are also countless online resources available for anyone who may feel they’re struggling, available at a click of a button. Going to your GP or talking to a family member or friend can be daunting. For some, they don’t want to do it. Instead, they can turn to these resources for information and support, helping them feel less alone. And with more education comes more acceptance. As people begin to understand mental illnesses, the harmful stereotypes and myths surrounding mental illnesses disappear.

Signs & Symptoms In Yourself And Others:

The signs and symptoms of mental health problems or mental illness can vary. The general signs to look out for in someone are:

  • Personality Changes – Acting out of character is a warning sign that people aren’t quite feeling their usual self.
  • Anger, Anxiety, Moodiness – Severe emotions are a cause for concern, particularly if they continue for an extended period.
  • Withdrawal – If a person is closing themselves off socially/spending much of their time alone, reach out to them.
  • Sleep/Appetite Changes – Pay attention. Tiredness is a sign of someone struggling to sleep. A change in appetite might suggest something more.
  • Disinterest – A lack of care for or interest in themselves, their friends, or their job could signal someone is struggling mentally.

Resources:

There are several resources available for those who need help and advice.

  • Mates In Mind – Aiming to address the stigma of poor mental health in the workplace, focusing on construction and related industries.
  • Mental Health Foundation – Helping people understand, protect and sustain their mental health.
  • Mind – Supporting and empowering those experiencing mental health problems.
  • Rethink – Improving the lives of those affected by mental illness.
  • Time To Change – Removing the judgment, shame, and isolation surrounding those with mental health problems, ending discrimination.
  • Don’t forget that it helps to talk, whether that’s to your closest friend, partner, colleague or even someone online. Online chats such as #TradesTalk are a great way of getting to know people in the industry. Not only does this give you a place to go for support, but plenty of those in the chat have become friends.
All data correct at time of publication.