MATES In Construction launches to reduce NZ construction industry suicides

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MATES In Construction has launched in New Zealand to improve awareness and reduce the rate of suicide in the construction industry.

At a time when suicide rates are continuing to rise across New Zealand, MATES In Construction is launching to find a way to improve awareness of the significance of suicide and help our mates in the construction industry. 

MATES In Construction focuses on opening up communication channels, changing on-site 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.

• 6.9% (47) of these were attributed to the construction industry.

• “The construction industry has the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in NZ.”

To combat this disturbing scenario, MATES In Construction has launched to:

• Deliver an on-site programme to provide the skills to help workers start the discussions with someone that may be struggling on-site or even in their community.

• Encourage people to understand the signals and to do something, rather than do nothing, and grasp the idea that suicide is everyone’s business.

• Provide long-term support to people who need it, establishing a peer-based support programme in the workplace, encouraging workers to offer help “when a mate is doing it tough”.

The MATES team includes field officers and case managers who deliver the programme and are available as much as is needed on-site, and on occasions such as post-ventions, critical incidents or people struggling at various levels.

Being set up as a charity, MATES In Construction is initially rolling out across a number of sites 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 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 over there.

“MATES is making a real impact, so now we’re working to make the same, if not stronger, impact here in New Zealand.

“On-site, it’s sometimes just noticing a change in your mate, and then simply asking, ‘are you ok?’

“We are working to equip people on-site 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 so many factors that contribute to suicide risk in the industry, 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.”

Ms McArthur says 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.

“I have been astounded by the support from the industry, which is really getting behind this programme. There’s been so much positive reaction to the help we are bringing to 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.”

The MATES NZ team is now focused on increasing on-site capabilities and ensure that people who are in need of support are connected to the best possible help.

To do this, Ms McArthur is working to establish an ongoing sustainable funding base of industry partners, donors and, ideally, government contributions.