Men's Health: As a carpenter, what was your experience of discussions around mental health and the workplace? Was it something you felt you could openly discuss or did you perceive there to be a stigma surrounding mental health?
Tom Derickx: I’ve been involved in construction for over 10 years and I’ve noticed a huge shift. In the same breath, I think it’s the one industry which still needs the most attention. It’s a masculine environment and that typically goes hand in hand with keeping your guard up emotionally. I’ve always been an emotional man and am comfortable being vulnerable and honest. I think that encourages people to reciprocate. There’s still a long way to go. The on site humour has changed which is a good sign! If you’re acting like a macho tough guy then you will be pulled back into line! And if you show some emotion, I think that’s being championed.
When it comes to mental fitness, are there any strategies or tools you use?
No pun intended but I have built up my metal resilience tools over the journey. I was quite naive to mental health when I was growing up. I didn’t really understand why I felt anxious or even what anxiety was. The first tool was just to express the way I was feeling. To anyone. Then you are pointed in the right direction.
I speak with a psychologist once a week. Anxiety and depression aside, I see it as such privilege to have someone sit there and challenge me to be a better, more well rounded person. I’ve learnt to really love myself and accept my imperfections. I now have an internal dialogue which is based around “look after yourself and treat yourself like you would treat your best mate.”
I meditate, I do a lot of breath work, I have cold shows, I laugh, cry and connect. Keeping creative is important too. I make a lot of music and we are lucky as tradies. We have a platform to be able to show a bit of creative flare!
Covid-19 has, in some ways, seen discussions of mental health enter the spotlight, but it’s also been a particularly devastating time for those working in construction. What has been some of the impacts of the pandemic on those working in the trades?
Firstly, the loss of hours/work becomes a huge financial stress. It’s been so sad hearing some of the stories. I think the lack of knowing or being able to plan ahead. Bosses having to let go staff is just heart breaking for both parties. It’s been an unpredictable disaster but we will find our feet and keep supporting each other.
Have you noticed a shift in attitudes towards mental health now? Has the stigma been lifted or do you think there remains much to be done?
I have noticed a shift in the last year. The guys and girls who always put on a brave face are starting to drop their guard. You’re not human if this pandemic hasn’t affected you at all. I still believe there’s so much to be done. In particular the older tradies who have toxic masculinity engraved in their attitude. It’s time for them to set the example and treat mental health like any other condition. Speak about it and I promise there is nothing tougher than being vulnerable. Especially when young tradies and apprentices look up to you.
What would be your advice for those working in the trades when it comes to checking in on others and also recognising their own struggles? How would you encourage people to open up about their mental health?
I think the blue print is being vulnerable yourself. That will make people around you feel more comfortable and also reminds them that they’re not alone. Being aware of your colleagues and any changes in there day to day moods is important. Ask them how they’re going. Try being specific. “How’s things with the kids at home?” “Hey Mate, I've noticed you have been a bit quiet lately, let me know if you want to grab a beer or go for a run after work.”
What can participants expect from the virtual connection workshop? What tools can participants take away when it comes to opening up and talking honestly about their own struggles?
This workshop will provide tradies with a mixture of engaging activities, encouraging shared laughs, and meaningful conversations, plus provide tradies with the tools to open up and talk honestly about the things that really matter in life.
Mental fitness and wellbeing is absolutely critical in this time of uncertainty and physical isolation which has particularly impacted the construction industry. We will have some laughs, and get some practical tools in this workshop that will change up the monotony of on-screen get togethers.
To sign up for the Tradie Health Month workshop, visit the website here. All Gotcha4Life donations will enable Australians to participate in programs to help build their own mental fitness and support those around them. Find out more at the official website here.