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MATES In Construction NZ is initially rolling out across a number of worksites in Auckland, including Commercial Bay, Pacifica, Westfield Newmarket, 10 Madden Street and the Sylvia Park expansion

MATES In Construction launches in NZ

At a time when suicide rates are continuing to rise across New Zealand, MATES In Construction has been launched to find a way to improve awareness of the significance of suicide and to help those working in the construction industry.

MATES In Construction NZ was formally launched on 30 October, focusing on opening up communication channels, changing onsite culture and improving knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide in New Zealand’s construction industry. It’s all about mates helping mates.

The 2019 BRANZ report, Suicide in the NZ Construction Industry Workforce, says that in the year to June 2019, 685 people died by suicide in New Zealand, and of these, 6.9% (47) were attributed to the construction industry – the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in NZ.

To combat this disturbing scenario, the industry-tailored solution MATES In Construction has launched with a number of aims. It will deliver onsite programmes that will provide the skills to help workers start the discussions with someone that may be struggling on the site or even in their community. It will encourage people to understand the signals and to do something, rather than nothing, and grasp the idea that suicide is everyone’s business. It will also provide long-term support to people who need it, establishing a peer-based support programme in the workplace that will encourage workers to offer help ‘when a mate is doing it tough’.

Reducing suicide rates

The MATES team includes field officers and case managers who deliver the programme and are available as much as is needed onsite and on occasions such as after a suicide event, during critical incidents, or when people are struggling at various levels.

Being set up as a charity, MATES In Construction NZ is initially rolling out across a number of worksites in Auckland, including Commercial Bay, Pacifica, Westfield Newmarket, 10 Madden Street and the Sylvia Park expansion. MATES is also working alongside a number of leading organisations to deliver the programme.

MATES In Construction NZ general manager Victoria McArthur: “One of the biggest factors is our men being stoic and not seeking help”

Victoria McArthur, general manager of MATES In Construction NZ, says: “MATES In Construction first launched in Australia in 2008. Since then, we have delivered our programme to 160,000 workers and seen an 8% reduction in suicide rates in the industry across the Tasman. MATES is making a real impact, so now we’re working to make the same, if not stronger, impact here in New Zealand.”

Ms McArthur says it’s sometimes just about noticing a change in a mate, and then simply asking, ‘Are you ok?’ “We are working to equip people onsite to recognise the signs that can lead to suicide, start conversations about suicide, and connect them to help. We want to ensure that we let those that are struggling know that they’re not alone.”

There are many factors that contribute to suicide risk in the industry, Ms McArthur adds, including work-related stress, long hours, job insecurity and things outside work like relationship breakdowns. “One of the biggest factors is our men being stoic and not seeking help. It’s ok to talk to your mates about it.”

AN INDUSTRY-WIDE APPROACH

Ms McArthur says that key to the success of the MATES In Construction model to date has been a commitment to ensure broad industry engagement with, and endorsement of, the programme, coupled with a strong evidence-based research model to back up its impact.

“Having a known programme and the confirmed support for an industry-wide approach from key industry stakeholders has meant the transition into New Zealand has been straightforward. New Zealand also has the benefit of a very supportive relationship with Australia, who are championing the success of our delivery,” she notes.

“I have been astounded by the support from the industry, which is really getting behind this programme. There has been so much positive reaction to the help that we are bringing to a site, but there is still a long way to go. We need many more companies to partner with us so we can deliver our programme more widely and spread our message that everyone can do something about this. Be a mate to help a mate.”

From someone who’s been there

Justin Geange is one of the field officers for MATES In Construction Queensland and has been the public ‘face’ of the launch of MATES In Construction in NZ. A plumber by trade, Mr Geange attempted suicide a few years ago after a particularly rocky time in his life.

It was while he was recovering in hospital that he had what he calls his ‘lightbulb moment’. “My mates kept coming to see me and I realised that I wasn’t alone in that dark space. Afterwards, I sought out some organisations with which I could share my experience.” MATES was one of them and Mr Geange joined the organisation in 2017.

“Every suicide has a tsunami effect,” he says. “It impacts that person’s family, their wider whanau and community, their colleagues, their employers. It’s therefore a community problem, and as a community we can do something about it.”

Mr Geange says every accident and incident in the workplace is usually the result of someone having too much ‘other stuff’ on their mind, which takes their focus off the job at hand. “There are ‘trigger’ life events that are often the start of suicidal thoughts – the breakdown of a marriage, bankruptcy, redundancy – and working conditions within the construction industry can also contribute to someone’s mental wellbeing, including long hours, drug and alcohol abuse, and job security.”

He says that it is estimated that 1 in 20 workers will have had thoughts of suicide in the last year. “If that’s you, then think of it like a warning light going off in your vehicle – it’s time to seek help.”

However, there are many reasons why people don’t or won’t seek professional help. “They don’t know who to ask, where to go, or they think it might be too expensive,” Mr Geange says. “If someone said to you that they were thinking of killing themselves, would you know what to do? What would you say? How would you cope? This is where MATES In Construction comes in – it’s about giving co-workers the tools to commence a conversation with a mate who might be having suicidal thoughts.”

The MATES NZ team is now focused on increasing onsite capabilities to ensure that people who are in need of support are connected to the best possible help. To do this, Victoria McArthur is working to establish an ongoing sustainable funding base of industry partners, donors and ideally government contributions.


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