There is continued evidence of a significant link between construction workers and suicide that needs addressing. In Australia, the latest statistics show that every day eight people take their own lives and a further 30 attempt to commit suicide. In 2017, around 75% of people who died by suicide were males. It appears that when other demographics such as age, gender and industry are applied to the number of deaths by suicide and daily attempts to commit suicide, that young male construction workers are most at risk.
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a considerable toll on mental health and the likely impact is a rise in deaths by suicide due to high unemployment, financial concerns and limited prospects. A feeling of hopelessness is developing, especially for younger workers who have been hard hit by lay-offs across industries such as hospitality and retail. The pandemic is compounding the risk to young people who are more likely to take their own life than die in motor vehicle accidents.
In this article, we look at some recent research that investigates the literacy of young male construction workers and suicide prevention. The aim of the study is to determine the interventions that are most successful in improving suicide prevention literacy among young men. The study notes that young men have a higher propensity to regard the workplace as having a role in reducing suicide rates and addressing mental health. This finding suggests that there is an opportunity for workplace interventions, but the types of programmes you use are critical in improving mental health literacy and changing beliefs.
Why Are Young Construction Workers Most At Risk?
Many people working in construction are manual workers or tradespeople and some have limited education and low socioeconomic status. These two traits are known to be the highest risk factors for self-harm and suicide in young people, with large numbers working in construction.
Research suggests that those in the highest occupational skill level group have lower rates of suicide, while those with the lowest skill level such as labourers, cleaners, or plant operators have higher rates of suicide. Furthermore, those working in manual occupations are at higher risk of suicide than the rest of the working population. Many manual workers are young men. Finally, young men in the construction industry have higher suicide rates than older men.
The link between young male construction workers and suicide may be a result of poor mental health literacy. Critically, we rely on mental health literacy to recognise the early symptoms of decline in ourselves and in others. Generally, males are less adept than females at correctly recognising symptoms of mental illness. However, a lack of mental health literacy may delay or block help-seeking behaviour.
While mental health literacy is crucial to seeking help for mental health concerns, many do not seek formal help. Interestingly, older male construction workers are less likely to feel that formal or informal support will make a difference and are less likely to seek help. However, young people are more willing to endorse more informal sources of help for mental illness.
What Did The Study Find?
The study finds that young men have poorer suicide prevention literacy than older age groups. But young men are more likely to endorse the role of the workplace in addressing the link between construction workers and suicide and their overall mental health.
Given these findings, the role of workplace training should not be underestimated, as it is clearly an avenue to increase mental health literacy. What is most interesting is that young construction workers are looking in their workplace for sources of informal help for mental illness. Therefore, workplaces that provide training and support may reduce the numbers of young construction workers who suicide or commit self-harm.
The research also notes the differences in suicide literacy between construction workgroups. Those in manual roles, for example, labourers, technicians, trades, machinery operators, and drivers show poor suicide literacy and lower endorsement of the role of the workplace in addressing mental health and suicide. Whereas, those in more managerial and ofﬁce-based roles are more knowledgeable and more supportive of workplace interventions. These occupational differences highlight vulnerabilities among young manual workers, suggesting that they should be the focus for suicide prevention programmes and initiatives.
The study investigates the role of the workplace in addressing and supporting mental health. Those aged 15–34 years are more likely to expect the workplace having some responsibility in addressing mental health. Workers who are 35 years or older have a far lower expectation.
How Can We Increase Mental Health Literacy?
The expectation of young workers that the workplace has a role is noteworthy and suggests potential to strengthen mental health in this vulnerable group. It is known that young males are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems from professional sources. Their acknowledgement and expectation of the workplace as having a role in addressing mental health is crucial. It suggests that younger groups and specifically young male construction workers may be receptive to workplace mental health and suicide education and prevention programmes.
Given the link between young male construction workers and suicide, the challenge is how to deliver education programmes that appeal to this group. The study shows that they are willing to engage in informal supports in the workplace. Therefore, there is a place for interventions such as MATES in Construction who visit worksites for casual chats and advice. Additionally, there is an informal role that online training and apps can take, given they are usually private and self-serve.
This is where online and mobile-friendly training and support platforms like Tap into Safety can help. Research shows that 95% of people have or use a mobile phone and 97% of young people play online games. Organisations have an opportunity to deliver valuable training content via mobile technology. And what’s more the Platform has a substantial library of micro-learning modules that cover most mental health topics. Using micro-learning helps to deliver critical concepts quickly and succinctly. A micro-learning delivery method is helpful for young workers who want their information right now and for manual workers who may have issues with English language literacy.
The Platform teaches coping strategies and encourages help-seeking, and it’s private and engaging and easy to use. On top of the training, there are also supportive self-help articles and mindfulness meditations that are free to use at any time. Why not try a free 7-day trial?
See our article, Mobile Health and Mental Health: The future is Now!
The link between young male construction workers and suicide is very worrying mainly because this group is reluctant to seek formal help. However, this study shows that young people are more willing to endorse more informal sources of help for mental illness than older workers. Also, young workers expect the workplace to play a role in supporting mental health. Therefore, younger groups and specifically young male construction workers may be receptive to workplace mental health and suicide education and prevention programmes.
Given these findings, the role of workplace training should not be underestimated, as it is clearly an avenue to increase mental health literacy. Workplaces that provide training and support may start to reduce the numbers of young construction workers who suicide or commit self-harm. It’s time to step up!