Posted on 10/09/18

Focus on: Mental Health

If you’re a man in Britain, the most likely cause of death before the age of 50 isn’t a car crash or a heart attack. It isn’t cancer, or terrorism, or a drug overdose. It’s yourself.

If you’re a man in Britain, the most likely cause of death before the age of 50 isn’t a car crash or a heart attack.  It isn’t cancer, or terrorism, or a drug overdose.  It’s yourself.

75% of all suicides in Britain are male, and if you work in construction, you’re at higher risk than most.

The male suicide epidemic is being discussed more widely than ever; the Duke of Cambridge, Rio Ferdinand, Professor Green, Stormzy, and a whole host of other celebrities and public figures are talking openly about their experiences with mental health problems and stimulating one of the most important discussions of this decade.

So what is the male suicide epidemic?

Research shows that men and women suffer with mental health disorders at a fairly equal rate – in fact, depression appears to affect more women than men according to statistics.  So why are so many young men committing suicide?

The answer could lie in our own social expectations of men and women.  ‘Toxic masculinity’ and the idea of the ‘alpha male’ have long been thought to contribute to the culture of men staying quiet about their mental health.  Men are statistically less likely to visit a doctor, and far less likely to talk about their emotions to friends and family.  Although depression appears to affect more women than men, we have no idea whether there is a physiological reason behind this, or whether fewer men are receiving the diagnosis in the first place.  Combine this with a culture of telling men to just ‘man up and get on with it’ and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Mental health in construction

We already know that men are at higher risk of committing suicide than women, but if you’re a man working in construction, that risk becomes higher still.  In 2017, the Office for National Statistics reported that the risk of suicide among low-skilled labourers was 3 times higher than the national average.  For males working in skilled trades, the highest risk was among building finishing trades with more than double the risk of the national average.

Long hours, often working away from home, and threats to job security are all factors that could be contributing to these statistics, as well as the stereotype of the ‘manly man’ working in construction.

How do we fix the problem?

There is no simple solution to this epidemic.  Changes in the way we perceive gender roles, as well as improvements to the availability of mental health resources, are desperately needed to prevent more young men from suffering in silence.

One thing we can all do is talk more openly about mental health.  Awareness and understanding are key to removing the stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide.  Knowing what resources and support are available is essential for young people, and luckily there are now dozens of dedicated websites and charities that encourage awareness and provide helplines and other support networks.

In 2017, Walker Construction launched its first mental health initiative, combining awareness posters with toolbox talks, training programmes, and a free, confidential counselling programme with an independent, accredited counsellor available to all staff and their immediate families.

We all work better when we’re happy, looked after, and supported at work; working together to increase awareness and provide support for employees is one big step in the right direction.


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