Posted on 19/07/19

Are you okay?

Addressing mental health at work, in the industry that is most at risk.

"Going to a counsellor or therapist when you're feeling sad, depressed or overwhelmed should be as normal as going to a doctor when you have the flu"

Suicide is the leading cause of death in England in adults below the age of 50, and research shows that some occupations are at particularly high risk. Males working in the lowest skilled occupations had a 44% higher risk of suicide than male national average; the risk among males in skilled trades was 35% higher.

The risk of suicide among low skilled male labourers, particularly those working in construction, was 3 times higher than the national average. 

For males working in skilled trades, the highest risk was among building finishing trades, particularly plasters, painters and decorators, who had more than double the risk of suicide than the male national average. 

Conversely, managers, directors and senior officials - the highest paid occupation group - had the lowest risk of suicide. Among corporate managers and directors the risk of suicide was more than 70% lower for both sexes.

There are 3 broad reasons why an occupation might carry a higher risk of suicide, although it is extremely difficult to determine how much any factor contributed to a person's suicide: 

  • Job-related features such as low pay and low job security 
  • People at high risk of suicide may selectively go into particular kinds of occupations
  • Having access to, or knowledge of, a method of suicide

The stats:

  • During the period 2011 to 2015, of the 13,232 suicides recorded in England with information on the deceased's occupation, the majority (10,688; 81%) were among men
  • In 2015, 75% of suicides reported were among men - the figure has decreased, but not by enough
  • Since around 1990, men have been at least three times as vulnerable to death from suicide as women
  • The decline in suicide rates is likely due to suicide prevention work and increased awareness of mental health issues, however, men are still at a significantly higher risk than women

There is little evidence to suggest that men are more likely to suffer with a mental health issue, despite being at higher risk of committing suicide, suggesting that the increased suicide risk may be due to the way society judges men and women, with men encourage to 'man up' and hold onto emotions rather than talking about them.

Relationship breakdown also appears to have an effect on suicide risk. The greatest risk is among divorced men, who in 2015 were 3 times more likely than men who were married or in a civil partnership to end their lives.

Research by the Samaritans suggests that "divorce increases the risk of suicide because the individual becomes disconnected from their domestic relationship and social norms. In addition, within Western societies there is a strong cultural emphasis on achieving a strong and happy marriages, and those who divorce may experience a deep sense of disoritentation, shame, guilt, and emotional hurt." Similar trends are observed among women, but at a significantly lower rate.

This risk of suicide in different occupations has been extensively studied in the UK and internationally. Attempting to explain suicide by occupation is complex, as it is likely that a number of factors act together to increase risk.

There are some steps that employers can take to support their colleagues, and providing this support doesn't need to break the bank.

Mental health awareness and charity affiliation

Thanks in part to the support of celebrities and public figures, charities such as CALM, Mates in Mind, and the Construction Industry Helpline offer support packs and resources for companies who want to improve their mental health awareness

Mental Health First Aid

This new courses, accredited by Mental Health England, is designed to guide employees at all levels on how to identify and support people who may be struggling with mental ill health. It does not teach anyone how to be a counsellor, but it does teach non-judgemental listening skills, as well as understanding a range of common mental health problems. their symptoms, and which services can be signposted.

Employee Assistance Programmes

In 2017 Walker Construction launched its Employee Assistance Programme, which provides free and confidential counselling to all of its employees and their immediate family. Counselling sessions take place outside of work hours with a licensed counsellor, and no personal information is reported back to the company, meaning that employees can access the service and only tell their line manager or colleagues if they choose to or when they feel ready to.

Want advice on how to best support your team? Contact the Walker Training team for impartial advice on the most appropriates course of action, or to book your place on our new Mental Health First Aid Course.