Suicidal ideation and related factors in construction industry apprentices

by Dr Victoria Ross, Dr Sharna Mathieu, Ms Rachmania Wardham, Mr Jorgen Gullestrup, Dr Kairi K lves

Published 15 January 2022

Context

Suicide rates within the construction industry are disproportionately high and there is accumulating evidence suggesting that young apprentices working in this industry may be particularly vulnerable.

There is a lack of research examining factors related to suicidal ideation in Australian construction industry apprentices specifically, with other studies focused more on other psychosocial and mental health variables or correlates of workplace bullying.

Research and findings

A large sample of 27,000 apprentices in Queensland were invited to participate in an online survey, which included questions about:

  • Demographics
  • Suicidal thoughts and exposure to suicide and suicide attempts in past 12 months
  • Stress management strategies (classified as adaptive and maladaptive)
  • Drug and alcohol use
  • Distress and wellbeing
  • Bullying.

Of the 1,402 responses analysed, nearly a third of apprentices reported suicidal thoughts in the previous year (29.4%). This rate is much higher than a previous 12-month prevalence estimate of 2.3% in a representative sample of the Australian population. The majority of apprentices knew someone who had attempted (64.1%) or died (55%) by suicide.

Apprentices who had experienced suicidal thoughts in the previous 12 months were more likely to report:

  • Workplace bullying
  • Psychological distress
  • Substance use and problematic alcohol consumption
  • Engaging in maladaptive stress management activities
  • Having known someone who had attempted or died by suicide.

Implications

This study provides evidence of the vulnerability of construction industry apprentices to suicidal ideation. While the response rate was low in this study, and there may be bias in that those who have experienced suicidal ideation are more likely to respond, the results support the need for tailored suicide prevention activities for this high-risk industry. This should include postvention support and addressing factors such as workplace bullying of younger workers.