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Wellbeing

The ‘shut up and get on with it’ mindset is no longer sustainable

By Kace O'Neill | |8 minute read

Men, whether through their own expectations or societal normalcy, often bury their emotions. This is a common trait throughout the tradie/construction workforce and is a plague affecting the industry, manifesting harsh lifestyles that are leading to high rates of suicide.

Work, drink, be miserable, repeat. This can be a monotonous reality for the men who make up one of, if not the, most important industries in Australia. The entrenched tradie culture has made this cycle a habitual process for the backbone workforce, and the results of these ingrained principles have become a prominent issue in relation to the tradie suicide rate.

There is no blame game here, though. It is not the fault of individual tradies or the industry as a whole that this cycle exists. In fact, to understand the core issue, you must take a big step back and look at the societal norms that are thrust upon men from a young age.

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For the most part, men are expected to be strong, stoic creatures that can bury their emotions on a whim. This is especially the case for men working in the trades and construction industry.

A lingering stigma

Construction is one of the most physically demanding jobs out there. Early wake-ups, long days, hard labour, and ever-changing weather conditions contribute to this. Tradies are moulded to have a tough exterior in order to get through their daily working conditions, which leads to their interior often being willfully neglected. Showing emotions, crying and talking about mental struggles do not fit into the prescribed mould of a tradie.

Joel Anderson, who first entered the construction industry as a teenager, knows all about it: “[I often] heard phrases like ‘toughen up’ or ‘have a cup of concrete and harden up.’ If you were having a challenge, you’d go and sink 10 beers at the pub on a Friday afternoon.”

“I was experiencing burnout. Instead of going and having a productive conversation with a counsellor, I ended up just resorting to drinking pretty much every weekend to a level that wasn’t healthy to cope with stress.”

Resorting to alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and other external factors can almost be less daunting for some men than expressing one’s feelings to another person, whether that’s a friend, family, or a professional.

That barrier of sharing comes from a stigma that men adhere to. According to Harvard Business Review, men face both self-stigma and social stigma about showing their emotions or talking about their level of anxiety, mood swings, and stress.

The self-stigma comes from the often-unconscious masculine ideals that have been culturally conditioned and socialised into their narrative of self, or their identity as men. The social stigma feeds that traditional male stereotype that includes men being expected to be assertive, ambitious, independent, self-reliant, in control, and strong.

The “shut up and get on with it” mentality runs deep, and more so, the fear of being judged or seen as soft has pushed men into retreating inward, suppressing their emotions until they become insurmountable.

The sad outcomes

When that pain and hardship is buried within, it, sadly, can become too difficult to overcome, and for a large proportion of tradies, that difficulty can lead to self-harm and suicide.

Some of the alarming statistics include:

  • Men are three times more likely to take their lives than women.
  • Tradies/construction workers and blue-collar careers have some of the highest suicide rates in Australia among men.
  • Construction workers are at least six times more likely to die by suicide than in workplace incidents.
  • Each year, 190 construction workers die by suicide in Australia.

The culture of self-suppression is widespread throughout the construction industry, and allowing those negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions to fester can cause devastating outcomes, as the statistics show.

Ignoring and falling victim to that culture or stigma can manifest itself into other negative attractions. Gambling, domestic violence, alcohol, drugs, excessive pornography, relationship/family breakdowns and bad financial choices are all vices that are widespread throughout the tradie industry.

Time for real change

Combating this issue is a complex task that requires a number of different things. Self-accountability from tradies, leaders, organisations, and the industry as a whole is imperative to ensure that this entrenched mindset is dismantled so transparency and openness can replace it.

They are not to blame for this mindset becoming so prominent, but they now bear the responsibility of working together to combat it. Prioritising strategies that can relate well with the workforce should be of the utmost priority. Advocating for a complete eradication of things like drinking won’t work; instead, creating an environment where healthy consumption is applauded is the way to go.

According to Blokes Psychology, on a personal level, there a number of strategies that tradies can add to their tool belt that will assist them through their times of hardship.

  • Talk to someone: This is easier said than done. Whether it be one of your work mates or a trusted partner or friend or even a professional, it’s essential to get it off your chest and not bottle up your issues, worries and concerns.
  • Educate yourself: Knowledge is power. Being aware of mental health conditions, warning signs, symptoms and available support services can be extremely beneficial, for you and your work mates.
  • Seek professional help: Don’t wait until you hit “rock bottom” to reach out for professional support. There are various organisations out there that can assist tradies who are struggling with mental health issues and are great preventative measures. Early intervention – getting early help/support is the best thing you can do.

Overall, breaking down those stigmas, barriers, and the dangerous cycle is crucial for the construction industry. It’s not an overnight job and is something that must be continually worked on. It is something that is in the DNA of tradies across the nation, that perseverance to get up everyday and work hard is a pillar of the industry, and if it’s redirected towards this issue, then those sad outcomes that are so prevalent could be nullified.

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Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.