WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I worked as a civil labourer and was elected Union Delegate by my peers and then worked directly for the CFMEU for 21 years in a variety of roles (Education Officer, Apprenticeship Officer, State Organiser of NSW Public Sector, Secretary of Furnishing Trades Division, President of Forestry, Furnishing Products Division & National Assistant Secretary of Construction & General Division). I was also Trustee/Director of several State & Federal Govt. Boards & Committees as well as a National Executive Member of the CFMEU.
WHAT IS MATES IN CONSTRUCTION & WHY WAS IT CREATED?
The MATES program is an integrated program of training and support – one without the other is insufficient. To only do training without pathways to support is potentially dangerous and to only do support without raising awareness is to simply be another Employee Assistance Program. The MATES program uses training as a tool to raise awareness that there is a problem with suicide and its contributing risk factors in our industry and we can all be part of the solution. The support is then provided through clear pathways to help, case management processes that ensure that workers in need of support are connected to appropriate help, and on-site visits by field officers to support the site and its workers in an ongoing presence until the site closes.
MATES was created out of the results/findings of the AISRAP Report (Australian Institute of Suicide, Research & Prevention – Griffith University QLD).
AISRAP found that in the construction industry, suicide rates were 2.5 times higher than the national average and young construction workers were ten times more likely to suicide than die from a workplace accident.
It also found 93% of construction workers who had suicided never sought professional help.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED AT MIC & WHY DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED?
I have been at MIC just on 2 years. The reason I gravitated towards this role is because when I saw the stats of high rates of suicide in our industry, I was outraged and I was motivated to do more. I also have 4 young adult sons and I wanted to better understand why the younger demographic are struggling with mental health and have alarming rates of suicide.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY IN YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
There is no typical day in my role…that’s why I love the job. I enjoy (from time to time) donning the Hi Vis and getting out on-site to assist our Field Officers/Case Managers train workers. This also helps keep my ear to the ground regarding program integrity and roll-out.
We are a small team in NSW, so I have to be a hands-on CEO and having an open-door policy with my staff is also imperative as we are constantly struggling with program demand. Flexible working hours, work from home and employee self-care options are all considered.
HOW IS THE CONSTRUCTION SPACE FARING COMPARED TO OTHER INDUSTRIES WHEN IT COMES TO MENTAL HEALTH & ARE THERE ANY UNIQUE CHALLENGES?
The Australian Construction Industry is the only industry that has embarked on a significant research project to identify problems of mental health & suicide prevention, so it is difficult to compare with other industries.
We have a few unique challenges in our industry. We are a male-dominated industry and understand there is a culture of not allowing discussion of mental health problems with peers (i.e. macho culture of ‘toughen up’ etc.). One of the unique issues that impacts is that the ‘life of’ the construction project is sometimes considered the ‘life of’ the job/employment. The work in our industry is itinerate and can be at times ‘Boom/Bust’.
HOW DO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FOR AUSTRALIAN CONSTRUCTION WORKERS COMPARE WITH THOSE IN OTHER INDUSTRIES?
With some indulgence, many may not be aware the most comprehensive study in any industry in the world was the AISRAP Report. It is therefore very difficult to compare our industry to others as there is an absence of qualitative data. We know, however, that some industries like Mining have their challenges with respect to FIFO workers etc.
HOW DO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES IN AUSTRALIA COMPARE WITH THOSE IN OTHER COUNTRIES?
We in Australia have some amazing innovative mental health programs and we can be considered a leader with our different approaches, but more can be done in providing Psychiatric care facilities.
UNFORTUNATELY, THERE IS STILL A SOCIETAL STIGMA TOWARDS MENTAL ILLNESS, ESPECIALLY WITHIN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS, & WHAT ACTIVE STEPS CAN BE TAKEN TO ERADICATE IT?
Addressing stigma is the starting point for our MATES in Construction program. At the extreme/pointy end of Mental Health is suicide and culturally remaining silent on suicides is not helpful. We teach participants in our MATES training program that mental health should be considered on no lesser level than physical health problems. We also encourage help seeking and help offering. Keeping the message simple (i.e. you don’t have to be a counsellor or psychologist to connect someone to help). De-mystifying mental health is key.