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Be aware of what mental unwellness might look like in your workplace. If you notice someone’s struggling at work, just ask: “Are you really OK?”

Editorial – December’19/

An awareness of mental health and wellness – or rather unwellness – at work is finally gaining traction in New Zealand, and not before time.

The sight of All Blacks hooker Dane Coles in tears, speaking at a press conference following the team’s crushing loss to England in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals, almost certainly made for uncomfortable viewing for some – real men don’t cry, do they? On the other hand, Coles’ show of emotion, along with others in the All Blacks team, was widely commended, with coach Steve Hansen saying it’s important to speak out if you are struggling mentally.

“It is a massive problem in New Zealand. Our biggest problem is that we don’t give those people that are struggling permission to say they’re struggling,” he told the press conference. “Our job as parents, as work colleagues, is to support people.

“First of all, you’ve got to know they need the support and, to know that, you’ve got to know your people. And then you’ve got to allow them to be vulnerable. And it takes a lot to be vulnerable. Giving them permission, I think, is the key. And then letting them just be vulnerable. It’s no different in sport, families or work – we’ve got to do it better than we’re doing.”

At the Supply Chain Symposium in Auckland in August, registered psychologist Bridget Jelley spoke about the effects of overload on a worker’s psychological wellbeing, and how hard it can be for an employer to recognise the symptoms of stress amongst their workforce. Often, she said, mental unwellness is hiding in plain sight.

Some of the key things to look for, she suggested, are changes in a person’s usual behaviour, poor performance, tiredness and increased sickness absence. A normally punctual employee might start turning up late, or be experiencing problems with colleagues. “Mental disorders show no prejudice and anyone from any walk of life can be affected,” Bridget said.

The 2019 BRANZ ‘Suicide in the NZ Construction Industry Workforce’ study revealed some terrible statistics. In the year to June 2019, 685 people died by suicide; of those, 47 of them were working-age males in the construction industry. In fact, our industry has the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in New Zealand.

In late October, MATES In Construction was formally launched in New Zealand. Established in Australia in 2008, it’s a programme delivered on worksites by trained personnel and aims to help workers start the discussion with someone that may be struggling with mental issues. By encouraging workers to understand the signals of others that are possibly contemplating suicide, it aims to persuade them to do something and grasp the idea that suicide is everyone’s business.

Get behind the MATES In Construction programme. Be aware of what mental unwellness might look like in your workplace. If you notice someone’s struggling at work, just ask: “Are you really OK?”

On behalf of the team at NZCN, I wish you all the very best for Christmas and a happy New Year!

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor


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