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Managing Stress & Anxiety at Work: Advice for Carpenters

Think about all the steps you take to ensure your health and safety when working as a joiner – things like wearing a hard hat, using a respirator on dusty jobs, or being extra careful when working at height.

Now think about what you do to safeguard your mental health at work. How do you deal with stress? Do you have good boundaries that ensure you don’t work too many hours? Do you take regular annual leave? Are you experiencing job security or money worries?


Mental health in the trades

It’s an unfortunate truth that working in the trades means you’re likely to experience mental health struggles – and less likely to do anything about it. Research conducted by Ironmongery Direct in 2023 showed that four in five tradespeople (84%) have experienced mental health problems directly related to their line of work, and that only 17% feel comfortable discussing their struggles with friends, family or colleagues.

The report also found that a worrying 93% of carpenters experienced mental health issues every year – the second highest of any group within construction. Since 99% of UK tradespeople are male – and suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 – it’s clear that by tackling mental health in the trades, as a nation we could make a real difference to men’s mental health statistics overall.


Why is mental health in the trades such an issue – and what can we do about it?

Mental health problems in the trades can have many of the same triggers as other industries – things like long hours, money worries, verbal abuse from customers and isolation due to self-employment. Since the vast majority of tradespeople are men, these problems can be compounded by cultural attitudes to masculinity and what makes a ‘real man’. Let’s take a look at how we can address some of these issues and stereotypes.


Dismantling toxic culture

One of the biggest barriers to mental wellbeing among tradespeople is a macho culture that has existed for generations. The idea that ‘real men don’t cry’ is a toxic belief that makes men in male-dominated workplaces reluctant to open up about their emotions and unable to ask for help when they need it.

While good-natured slagging is part and parcel of working in the trades, it creates an environment where hurtful verbal abuse and bullying can go unchecked, compounding mental health problems and making it impossible for men who are struggling to reach out for help.

Much work has already been done to challenge this culture, and there are signs that change is happening – but it’s slow. It’s understandable that tradesmen don’t want to lose the camaraderie and bonding that comes along with bawdy on-site antics, but one of the most powerful things we can all do is set boundaries around what’s acceptable, and put procedures in place so that people can report abuse or reach out for mental health support confidentially.

App-based mental health services like Headspace, BetterHelp and Spill are an ideal fit for busy tradies, holding space for self-reflection and offering an easy route to access support anonymously when needed.


Empowering people

Working long hours in close proximity to each other means that tradesmen often feel a family connection to their workmates. And just like a family, sometimes you’re too close to see the wood for the trees. It’s possible to work cheek by jowl with someone 365 days a year and never really know what’s going on inside their head.

But these bonds can also be a powerful tool for improving mental health in the workplace, and it all starts with empowering individuals to simply ask the question – are you OK?

Mental health support is often thought of as something that has to be delivered by a professional – and it’s true that when somebody is in crisis, they may need professional support. But tradesmen need to realise that they have the power to make a difference for their mates, their colleagues and for themselves, simply by talking about and listening to each other’s highs and lows.

Charities such as Mates in Mind and CALM have some great training and resources designed to unlock the power that already exists within your team, simply by encouraging individuals to look out for their workmates.


Taking responsibility

Whether you’re the managing director of a construction company or a one-man-with-van outfit, the truth is that mental wellbeing starts with you. The old cliché that you should fit your own oxygen mask before helping others is true.

If you lead a team, prioritising your own mental health sets a great example and helps to build the culture we’ve already talked about. Prioritising rest and family time, normalising talking about feelings, being open about getting counselling or taking anti-depressants – all these things reduce the stigma around mental health which doesn’t just lighten YOUR load, it lights the way for others too.

And if you’re a self-employed solo carpenter – who’s gonna look out for your mental health if you don’t do it? So take some time off. See a financial advisor if you’re worried about money. Book a session with a therapist – you can do it online, or through your phone, using the apps mentioned above. By all means pay the bills – but make time for your family and friends, have a laugh as often as you can, lay off the pints and get enough sleep. It’s good for your body, but it’s even better for your mind!


CALM: www.thecalmzone.net
Helpline (5pm – midnight, 365 days): 0800 58 58 58

Samaritans (24/7): 116 123

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