Research projects

The Victorian building and construction industry help-seeking behaviours research project: Apprentices and young workers

Principal researchers

Tim Corney

Institution

Incolink

Funding

$100,000

Award type

beyondblue grant

Project completion year

2011

Project brief

beyondblue funded Incolink – a Victorian-based organisation that provides support services to the building and construction industry – to conduct a two-year research project designed to examine help-seeking behaviour for common mental health problems among young working men in the building and construction industry.

This research has provided the basis for the development of an education and awareness raising campaign to encourage help-seeking behaviour among young men. Importantly, the project has the support of employer associations, unions and group training companies in the building and construction industry.

Overview

The project’s aim was to investigate help-seeking for depression of young men working in the building and construction industry. The results provided the foundation for an education and awareness campaign to encourage help-seeking behaviour.

This project was accomplished in three stages:

  • Stage 1 – 10 focus groups in Victoria (six in Melbourne and four in Bendigo) with 62 participants
  • Stage 2 – a survey of 146 apprentices and young workers
  • Stage 3 – an awareness campaign which involved developing and disseminating three posters, one fridge magnet and a wallet card brochure.

Key findings

Workers’ stressors and responses

  • A number of stressors contributed to workers feeling stressed and overwhelmed. These included financial pressures, feeling powerless to bring about workplace change, finding a good work-life balance, the suicides and attempted suicides of friends, and communication between apprentices and supervisors (particularly work-related criticism).
  • Workers reported both positive and negative responses to stressors. The positive responses were using distraction, seeking help and talking to someone. The negative responses were depression, withdrawal, violence and risk-taking behaviour.
  • Workers identified factors that helped to protect themselves against stress. These included maintaining a positive attitude, setting goals, rewarding themselves, spending time with significant others, supportive work relationships, having a feeling of belonging to a community and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Sources of help

  • Significant others (family members, friends and romantic partners) were identified as prime sources of help. Additional sources of help included counsellors, help lines and people respected or admired by young workers (teachers, supervisors, religious leaders).
  • Trust, respect, friendship and helpers with empathy, good communication skills, knowledge and who will maintain confidence were important factors determining whether young workers will seek help. Age and gender were less important factors
  • Regional workers were more likely to discuss the events of the day with a romantic partner, whereas metropolitan workers were more likely to speak with close friends. The same pattern appeared when apprentices wanted to entrust someone with a secret/personal matter or share something good that had happened in their lives.
  • The results indicate that feelings of closeness were linked to the perceived influence of that particular group. For example, if young men rated their feelings of closeness for a family member highly, then they also tended to identify that immediate family, rather than close friends, had a significant influence on them during their teenage years. 
  • Those workers without formal connections are likely to fare worse than those with such connections. Of concern were the 15 per cent of workers surveyed who have no one that they identified as a source of help or that they could discuss the events of the day with. These workers are at particular risk of isolation.

Barriers to young people seeking help

  • Barriers to seeking help for depression included beliefs that it is not masculine to seek help and men needed to be self-reliant, that help services were female-oriented, and a lack of clarity about the role of professional sources of help and where to seek help.
  • Generally, there was a reluctance to seek help unless it was a serious issue. However, when a serious issue did arise, they were less likely to seek help.

Supporting colleagues with depression

  • Young men were willing to talk to work colleagues about depression. However, this depended on how well they knew the individual, whether the situation/environment was seen to be conducive and whether the colleague had the knowledge to point them in the right direction. For many, their lack of knowledge about mental health issues and their fears of making it worse were barriers to providing support for work colleagues.

Awareness campaign

  • Although participants in the focus groups had seen and read the wallet cards, they could not recall having seen the posters or fridge magnets prior to them being presented at the focus group discussion.
  • Posters were not seen as a reliable source of communication. Many posters are not displayed by TAFEs/employers due to space constraints or greater priority being given to WorkSafe Victoria posters which employers are legally obliged to display.
  • Participants suggested gifts, such as builders’ pencils, stickers, t-shirts and caps, would be a practical way to promote simple messages such as website addresses and phone numbers. 
  • Comments made by participants indicated that they were familiar with the key mental health messages and knew the importance of ‘not letting things build up’ and talking to someone about their problems. However, they feared overstepping the boundaries of friendship with mates.

Implications

The findings highlight the need to understand risk factors and help-seeking for depression and other mental illnesses that are industry and gender specific. Awareness campaigns need to include key messages that are repeated to reach and resonate with the target audience. This includes the families, partners and friends of workers with a mental illness, who are identified as prime sources of help. Employers need to improve the knowledge and skills of workers, via the delivery of training programs (e.g. e-learning and face to face), so that workers can support a colleague with mental illness.

Further research is needed to understand depression and anxiety in the building and construction sector and other male-dominated industries (e.g. mining, manufacturing, transport). This needs to include examining the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving workplace mental health.

Links

For more information about workplace mental health resources and training (including e-learning) visit the Workplace section of the beyondblue website or email us

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