Meet the Biggest Killer Under 40

Suicide – currently the biggest killer of people under 40 years of age.

In Australia, the greatest number of life years lost in 2019 was due to suicide and self-harm, and managers of a younger workforce should take note.

Over the last few years, Optimum has collected data on apprentices in the mining and mining services industries. Between 2019-2020, the results have been alarming with off the chart increases in self-reported levels of depression and anxiety.

Staggeringly, post Covid, there was up to a 166% increase in those in the high-risk zones for mental health. This is despite education and support mechanisms in place for these younger employees.

The significant difference in female and male apprentices across levels of depression, anxiety and stress was a major red flag identified in our data.

  • Within 16-19 years – 71% of females and 0% of males reported to be in the high-risk zones
  • Within 20-29 years – up to 41% of females and up to 10% of males reported being at high-risk zones
  • Within 30-39 years – up to 62% of females and up to 20 % males reported being in the high-risk zones

Despite these alarming results, Optimum’s interventions have been able to save three apprentices from suicide.

This was due in part to the support offered to these cohorts by their forward-thinking employer, in addition to the external services offered in our programs.

The trend across the workforce over a 48-month apprenticeship indicates significant gender differences. This may result partly due the data being self-reported – one expects elevated levels of responses from females as distinct from the, at times, reluctant male responses. While we expected a variation, we were surprised by the magnitude of differences.

Our response to the data has been to administer several layers of support, programs and educational material specifically tailored to gender, age, and work conditions.

Acknowledging current social trends and pressures that are hard to control for younger employees, we have been able to navigate this environment and offer a collection of vibrant alternatives to the traditional “stress management programs.”

With some industries aiming for a 50/50 gender mix within apprentices and the workforce, it may be time to consider the impact of having the same gender managing or overseeing these younger employee groups. Currently the younger female must find an appropriate mentor/manager as males still dominate the managerial/supervisor roles in most industries.

Workplaces may also be too daunting for the younger worker. Is it time to consider a gentler and kinder approach to how we work? Is it time to consider a culture change?

Most of the organisations we have worked with want to make the individual stronger and more resilient, without changing the structure of the individuals work or workplace. Individuals are stretched at work – they are struggling, they are exhausted and yet more mental health training is added to their schedule. This model according to our data is not sustainable.

Our data indicates Mental Health Training/Support/Programs must assume the same level of importance as TAFE trade courses – particularly considering the changes that are now linked to the Occupation Health and Safety Legislation in WA. To be truly effective and bring about meaningful change, they should be part of the working world, not an add-on to an already saturated workday.

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