Stepping onto a worksite or into a transport depot, you’ll find the place abuzz with talk of weekend sports, trips away, and nights out. Yet, when it comes to discussing mental health, the silence can be deafening.
In many male dominated industries, discussing or sharing mental health issues is considered taboo and can be perceived as a weakness. This makes awareness of mental health and being able to identify early warning signs in your colleagues, and even yourself, that much more important.
The two biggest challenges facing the construction and transport industries are:
- Breaking the stigma around mental health in the construction and transport industry
- Changing a generational perspective that men shouldn’t talk about their problems.
When it comes to tradies, they’re 70% more likely to commit suicide than men who work behind a desk. According to a study published in 2022, of 1,390 truckies surveyed, 50% reported low levels of psychological distress. The mantra of ‘suck it up and deal with it’ is now obsolete. We need to start looking out for our mates, and ourselves.
So, we’ve pulled together some of the most common mental health conditions and their symptoms. This can help you identify the early signs of issues with your work mates and help guide you on how to offer them some assistance.
Understanding Mental Health Conditions & Identifying Symptoms.
In order to know if a workmate could be suffering with mental health issues, it’s crucial to understand some of the more common conditions and their symptoms (signs):
Stress & Anxiety
Stress is defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Anxiety on the other hand, doesn’t go away, and can happen for no reason, making it hard to cope with daily life. Both are emotional responses.
Colleagues under stress can experience mental and physical symptoms like irritability, anger, fatigue, muscle soreness, and have difficulty sleeping. When it comes to anxiety, they will experience persistent, excessive worries that don’t go away even when things seem to calm down.
Depression is mainly characterised by persistent sadness and the absence of pleasure in activities you may have deemed rewarding or enjoyable. Something as simple as watching the footy.
The biggest misconception around depression is sadness being the only symptom. For most, this isn’t the case. Lesser-known symptoms include feeling isolated, seeking distraction (spending a lot of time at work for example), headaches, digestive issues, irritability, and even risky behaviour (driving recklessly, for example).
Given the physical and mental stress in the construction and transport industry, either due to the nature of the work or the long hours, burnout is not uncommon. It is a syndrome that can result from workplace stress that hasn’t been properly managed. Either by yourself or your company not having the right procedures in place.
Some of the most prevalent symptoms are insomnia, apathy (change in enthusiasm levels), exhaustion, regular sickness, irritability, poor work performance, and feeling/acting isolated (withdrawing from others).
As you’ve probably noticed, most of the above conditions have overlapping symptoms. When looking out for your work mates, identifying the conditions is not the job, it’s recognising the symptoms.
Responding to Warning Signs and Raising Awareness
Now you’re armed with a wealth of knowledge around some of the conditions and symptoms relating to mental health. So, what do you do when you feel your workmate is showing signs, or aren’t their usual self?
The team at R U OK? tell you to trust your gut. If something seems off, then it probably is. If you’re not sure what we mean, then maybe this video will help.
For most people in the transport and construction industries, taking that first step and asking, “are you ok?” can be the hardest part. Yet, it’s the most important. Just one simple question could make a world of difference.
If you feel that you’re not equipped to help, you could raise the matter with your supervisor or manager. They should have steps in place to offer assistance that you’re not aware of.
However, if you want to take the initiative to increase awareness in your workplace, there are plenty of tools and resources on the web to help you out. This downloadable PDF from ‘R U OK?’ not only provides you with questions and responses to keep the conversation going, but also includes posters you can put up around the worksite or office.
Support and Breaking the Stigma Around Mental Health
Those in the construction and transport industry needn’t suffer in silence when it comes to their mental health. There are many ways to seek support, but one of the most prominent organisations you can start with is R U OK?
R U OK?
In 2009, Gavin Larkin chose to champion a Conversation Movement by asking “Are you ok?” The very question that could have changed the fate of his dad in 1995. Ever since then, R U OK? has had one purpose; to empower people to meaningfully connect and lend support.
R U OK? Day is coming up on the 14th of September. The day’s mission is to remind people that every day is the right day to ask “are you OK?” whenever they spot the signs that someone they care about might be struggling.
For those wanting to be there for someone in need, but not sure how to begin, R U OK? have a ‘how-to-ask’ page with a stack of resources and tips on how to prepare yourself to start a conversation. Including a quiz to help you feel more confident in asking the question.
The two biggest factors to combatting mental health in the transport and construction industries are:
- Early recognition of mental health symptoms
- Asking your workmate “are you OK?” when they seem out of sorts.
The change needs to start at the grassroots level, with mates looking out for each other on-site. We all have rough days, but when those days stretch to weeks, or months, something’s not right.
Educating ourselves on the signs helps us identify issues early and start a conversation. This could make a world of difference to someone’s life.
If you’re not feeling like your usual self, or know someone going through a rough patch, get in touch with your doctor or local health centre, or call the legends at Lifeline on 13 11 14.