Mental Health

Fostering mental health in construction with MATES

A program assisting construction workers in recognising and addressing mental health issues among their colleagues has seen a reduction in the suicide rate in the Queensland construction industry.

MATES in Construction is a ‘bottom-up’ community development program that is being implemented by workers, according to business development manager, Jenny Roberts.

“That’s why it’s working so well,” she told Pro Choice Safety Gear.

“We raise mental health awareness and train construction workers so they are better able to look after themselves and their mates,” Ms Roberts said.

She added that suicide is the leading cause of death for all males aged 25-44 years and suicide rates in the Australian construction industry are 20 to 30% higher than the male average in any state and territory.

“Lower skilled workers are at the highest risk of suicide, namely operators and labourers,” she said, adding that apprentices are also at greater risk.

Pro Choice recently reported that one-quarter of apprentices suffer bullying at work, with apprenticeships part of a bullying culture which is often considered a rite of passage.

Overall, the figures are not good: “Construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than an accident at work. We lose a construction worker to suicide every second day, that’s 190 every year,” Ms Roberts said, adding that MATES’ goal is to halve that number over the next 10 years.

“Since the program’s implementation in Queensland in 2007, suicide rates have decreased by 8 per cent in that state and are now closer to the average for males,” she said.

The MATES Program:

The MATES in Construction program begins with 45 minutes of on-site mental health general awareness training that every worker must attend.

“We talk about the prevalence of suicide in the industry and analyse some of the reasons for that. We encourage people to think about what they would do if someone they knew is not well.”

Workers are then introduced to their site’s Connector, one of 6,900 on-site volunteers in the national MATES network who have been trained to provide safety and support specifically to construction workers.

“If you or a mate is doing it tough you can speak to a Connector who is trained to take the appropriate course of action,” Ms Roberts said, describing that action as potentially also working with a MATES Field Officer.

ASIST workers are also on-site however are provided with more in-depth training than Connectors, using the Living Works Assist Training Program.

“They learn the skills about keeping someone safe and how to ask someone if they are having thoughts of suicide and what to do if they say yes. They are also pointed out in site induction.”

“The main difference is that because the majority  of the people at MATES, including the Field Officers, have come out of the construction industry they are better able to understand,” Ms Roberts said, adding that the program is also responsible for feeding workers into local health care providers.

“They may need assistance with drug and alcohol use or counselling. We find them the most appropriate service in their area and connect them with it.”

MATES also offers case management for more complex cases and has a 24-hour 1300 number that any construction worker or their family can ring.

They have also recently completed a pilot program in the mining industry and are in talks to provide it with a similar service.

If you are in need of help please call MATES in Construction on 1300 642 111 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.


For Employers:

There is no direct cost to the employer or worker to implement the MATES in Construction program on a construction site. Employers are asked to provide the program during work hours, usually at induction.

For Connector training we ask that the training also be provided during work hours.  The ASIST course has a small cost to cover licensing fees and requires a commitment of two consecutive days.

Mental health investment has been found to provide an ROI of 250%.

To find out more about implementing program on your site, please contact MATES in Construction.


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