Male Suicide in Male-Dominated Industries
The suicide rate for men in England and Wales hit a two-decade high in 20191, with men accounting for nearly three-quarters of suicide deaths registered.
Men aged 45-49 are at the highest risk of suicide, and as discussed in our blog post around men’s mental health, it’s the largest cause of death for men under the age of 35.
Alarmingly, though, there seems to be another trend emerging – men in male-dominated industries seem to be at a higher risk of dying by suicide than ever before.
Suicide rates for construction workers in the UK is over three times the national average2.
The construction industry may be viewed as risky due to the dangers of operating heavy machinery, but the true danger may lie in the fact that the suicide rate for construction workers is three times the national average for men.
In fact, the suicide rates in the construction industry alongside the stigma around mental health have led to initiatives such as ‘Building Mental Health’ and charities such as ‘Mates in Mind’ to tackle the issue.
In a study by CN, a number of factors were cited as contributing to poor mental health, such as3:
- Long hours
- Job uncertainty
- Working away
- Tight deadlines
- Financial pressure
- Work culture
With over 48.3% of construction workers taking time off work due to unmanageable stress and mental health issues, it begs the question – why are so many men in male-dominated industries at a higher risk of dying by suicide?
High pressure environments
Alongside the construction industry, there are several other industries that have a high risk of dying by suicide, according to a study done by the Guardian: administration, skilled electrical/electronics, drivers, elementary trades, and machine operatives.
One common thread between these professions is the heightened pressures facing men.
Isolation can be a key issue for many of these industries, causing men to spend an increasing amount of time away from family and friends – we already know that social isolation is linked to depression, and poor sleep quality4.
Social isolation has also been found to increase the risk of premature death from every cause, for every race5.
Add in the correlating factors of drinking and gambling culture, loneliness, job pressure and job insecurity, and one problem quickly turns into several.
Wellbeing isn’t a priority
Attitudes are changing, particularly in the construction industry, with 41.5% of respondents to a survey by CN saying they felt satisfied with the support their colleagues gave after raising issues.
However, 90% still believed that not enough support was being given for those struggling with mental health issues.
Meeting tight deadlines, doing projects/work cheaply, and high competition are all factors in a poor mental health culture in these industries, putting employees’ mental health and wellbeing at the bottom of the list of priorities.
The price of these pressures isn’t superficial – it’s life threatening.
The gendered nature of certain occupations presents a key concern when attempting to tackle the high suicide rates amongst men.
Males who are employed in male-dominated occupations have been found to be less likely to seek help from a mental health professional, and there is accompanying evidence that women employed in traditionally male-dominated occupations (such as medicine) have higher rates of suicide than other employed females6.
So what makes male-dominated occupations so fatal?
Primarily, men in male-dominated occupations tend to be in full-time employment, with greater job strain and demands, and lower job control.
Long working hours, high psychological demands, and work-family imbalance have all presented as significant factors for mental health concerns in men, which are combined with a culture of silence between men around discussing mental health.
It begins with the mental health culture at work
Occupational health interventions are critical in preventing male suicide, and changing attitudes towards mental health across the board.
A culture of silence and secrecy merely enforces the idea that men should ‘put up and shut up’, rather than seek out help from a colleague, line manager, or mental health professionals/services.
Promoting mental health initiatives in the workplace gets a conversation going, opening the floor for men to feel validated, which may be the difference between them seeking help versus staying silent.
60% of respondents in CN’s survey agreed that there wasn’t enough awareness about mental health in the industry7, further emphasising the importance of mental health awareness and education in male-dominated industries.
Though a nationwide effort was made in training 2,500 onsite workers in mental health first aid by 2020, in order for the stigma around mental health in these industries to diminish, it needs to permeate the industry at large.
Feelings of shame and embarrassment often cause men in these industries to go unnoticed, which is why talking about men’s mental health can go a long way in making positive change.
Hope might be on the horizon, but we can all contribute towards reducing the stigma around mental health, particularly for men.