Positive psychology for tradies
Positive Psychology is a branch of psychology backed by decades of research, that focuses on strengths, positivity and what makes people thrive. ACAP’s very own Dr Steve Zolezzi is a leading expert in its practice. Steve was recently invited on to the Tradie Connection podcast to speak about how positive psychology can improve mental health in the construction industry, so we took the opportunity to get some of his important insights onto paper.
Mental health among tradies is poor, with suicide rates that Steve describes as ‘alarmingly high’ among males in the sector. Recent statistics show that 93% of tradies who took their own lives didn’t seek any professional help beforehand. This is something Steve says ‘has to change’.
“It can feel daunting to come to terms with your own mental health or to respond to someone who’s told you they’re not OK, but tradies are often solutions-focused thinkers and they can use this mindset in positive psychology to improve situations” says Steve.
Steve suggests tradies use the positive psychology-based concept of PERMAH to monitor and maintain their mental health and that of the people they work with. PERMAH is simple and represents the 6 core elements of happiness and wellbeing.
- P is positivity. “Taking more notice of positive emotions can tweak our mindset and help us spiral upwards emotionally” says Steve.
- E is engagement. “Tradies are often very engaged in their work but positive engagement is where you’re not over-exerting or under-exerting – it’s a sweet spot”.
- R is relationships. “Positive relationships are extremely important for good mental health so keep mates around you and maintain a good home environment with work-life balance.
- M is meaning. “We need to create meaning in our life and for tradies, it can be easy to find meaning, as there’s generally plenty of solutions-focused work”.
- A is accomplishments. “This is not around salary or title, it’s about being a good bloke, with value and accomplishments in terms of family, health, time in nature”, he says.
- H is “We mustn’t forget the daily commitment to good health habits of nutrition, exercise, and sleep.”
According to Steve, if you can up your PERMAH score from 0 to 10, you’ll be thriving at work, so his tip is to be mindful of your PERMAH and also to notice PERMAH in your mates.
Recognising when mental health isn’t great
Tradies are vulnerable to poor mental health for a few reasons (like long working hours in a physically demanding job). “It’s important to know what to look for in yourself and others so you can get help when it’s needed” says Steve.
Steve suggests some signs of deteriorating mental health are:
- Seeming stressed or tired
- Being late for work
- Trouble focusing, making decisions or multi-tasking
- Getting frustrated, angry, overwhelmed or emotional
- Avoiding social activities
- Bullying, aggression or threatening behaviour
- Drinking more or taking drugs
Talking and listening
Statistics show that too many tradies aren’t opening up when they’re struggling, and that can come with dire consequences, including suicide. If you notice changes in a workmate, Steve suggests inviting them to talk about it as the first step. He recommends creating a welcoming, safe space, giving as much time as it takes and reassuring them you are there for them. When listening, you should:
- Be non-judgmental – your role is to listen and encourage them to talk
- Share similar experiences – if you’ve felt the same, sharing that will make them feel less alone
- Nod as they talk – to show you are listening and understand
- Ask questions around PERMAH – for example ‘tell me about when you’re at your best’, ‘what do you find engaging at work?’ or ‘how are things at home?’
- Use PERMAH as a framework for motivation – point out their accomplishments and encourage them to stay healthy
Getting professional help
If you or a colleague has a mental health condition, it’s also important to get help from professionals. The right intervention can reduce the severity, duration and impact of symptoms. Getting professional help is as easy as making a phone call or looking online.
You can get professional help from:
- A GP who can refer to relevant specialists
- The ACAP clinic – a free telehealth service you don’t need a referral for
- Online resources – Beyond blue, MATES in Construction and HALT (Hope Assistance Local Tradies)
- In a crisis situation – Lifeline 13 11 14
Hear more from Steve
If you’d like to hear more from Steve on this topic, listen to the Tradie Connection podcast
Dr Steve Zolezzi is Senior Lecturer Discipline of Psychological Science at ACAP. He’s a Registered Psychologist with 25 years’ experience in Education and Psychology.