Researchers find overwhelmed tradies are plagued with suicidal thoughts

By Jarrod
5 Min Read

Long work hours and job insecurity are driving suicidal thoughts and distress among some Australian construction workers.

A report earlier this year by the University of South Australia revealed that “crazy hours”, financial anxiety and a never-ending work cycle were causing tradies in Australia’s struggling construction sector to feel trapped and hopeless.  

Collaborating with mental health charity MATES in Construction, the landmark study titled “And you feel like you’re suffocating … how the f**k am I going to get out of all this?” explored the drivers that lead to the suicidal thoughts and psychological distress of industry workers.

Researcher Simon Tyler said they identified eight major themes that were putting pressure on tradies. 

“These included challenges directly related to working within the industry, such as working long hours and the stress and isolation that comes from workplace transience and job insecurity, which are common issues in the sector,” he said.

“The people who discussed these issues saw them as increasing in intensity in recent times and said they played a significant part in experiences of suicidal thoughts and distress.”

One program participant said the industry’s poor work-life balance “took its toll” and claimed he regularly worked up to 60 hours a week after “working 80, 90, 100 hours weeks for a long time”.

Other themes driving suicidal thoughts were related to personal issues, such as relationship and family concerns, social disconnection, personal financial hardship, perceived lack of support, mental health challenges and past trauma. 

Many participants also highlighted the stigma around mental health and suicide among workmates that limits them from reaching out for help.

“I think it’s just the stigma,” said one program participant. “If you have a broken arm people can see and touch and feel it … but mental health. You cannot touch it and feel it and it’s not accepted.”

Other participants discussed thoughts of feeling trapped and overwhelmed.

“… to get me away from that situation, I was either going to take my life or I was going to quit,” one participant said.

“… you feel like you are suffocating. Like, you know, how the f*** am I going to get out of all this?” said another.

Mr Tyler said suicide remains a “significant concern for the industry”, with the alarming death toll reaching an all-time high in 2023.

“It’s a confronting reality – that one worker every second day is taking their own lives,” he said.

“The nature of the construction industry can be challenging with workplace drivers such as employment uncertainty, as well as industry cultures that encourage self-reliance attitudes and behaviours, but it’s also a sector that is determined to change and help better the lives of the people it employs.”

A MATES study last year revealed that the suicide rates between 2011 and 2019 among male tradies were about twice that of other male workers.

MATES SA CEO Alan Suridge said program participants had identified what helped them personally or had helped others who were experiencing challenges with mental health and suicidal thoughts.

“Mates in Construction is a three-tiered awareness program that teaches workers how to recognise when a mate is struggling and where to go for help,” he says.

“We then provide free counselling and support services to workers in need. Research such as this enables us to educate workers on signs to look for and how to respond appropriately, creating a safer, more caring workplace community.”

Since its programs were introduced, the organisation has trained more than 237,000 industry workers and estimates the suicide risk in the industry has dropped by about 8 per cent.

If you or someone you know is doing it tough, the MATES Helpline is available 24/7 on 1300 642 111.

Meanwhile, TIACS offers a free phone and text counselling service by contacting 0488 846 988. In an emergency, always remember to dial 000.

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.