Hard hats hung in a row on a work site

R U OK? MATES in Construction

HEADS UP – This post deals with the topic of suicide. If you are experiencing problems or dealing with suicide grief and would like to talk to someone, please reach out to Lifeline or one of the listed organisations.

Three years ago today we said goodbye to a friend who most of us didn’t know was struggling. As we hear so often, he was the happiest of people. He would light up a room, do anything for anyone and had the most infectious of laughs. We didn’t know that all of that masked a pain so deep he felt he couldn’t go on and couldn’t stay. It still pains me that so many of us didn’t know – even though I myself didn’t see him very often.

Australian data reveals that males make up around 75% of those that choose to end their life. This is a staggering figure and upsetting in itself (especially as a mother to three boys).  However, as a copywriter specialising in copy for the building and construction industry, it is also alarming to read that suicide rates within this industry are higher than the Australian average for men and that youth suicide in this industry is more than two times greater than the national average for the same age groups.  190 Australians in the construction industry end their life each year which means the industry is losing a worker every second day. That’s a lot of colleagues, friends and family members – and the repercussions on those left behind can’t begin to be measured.

I think the prevalence of male deaths can be attributed in part to a masculine discourse in which we somehow made it not okay for males to show emotion or empathy. I pray that we are slowly but surely turning this awful tide. Cue the great work of MATES in Construction, a charity established in 2008, run by the Australian Building and Construction Industry, aimed at reducing the high number of deaths among its ranks. Their philosophy is based on everyone in the industry playing a role because “suicide is everyone’s business”.

MATES in Construction provide general awareness education, as well as train people to be “Connectors” and “ASIST workers” – basically these people are trained to recognise the signs of someone in trouble, keep them safe in a crisis and lead them to professional help. It’s a really great initiative and I totally commend the industry for recognising that was a problem and actually doing something about it.

Being a relatively young charity, not many people know about it so I encourage you to share this post. Awareness can be a first step to helping someone and won’t cost you a thing. There are many other ways to support the charity as well – from donations to participation in fundraising events and today’s annual Fly the Flag for Mates, run in conjunction with R U OK? day.

It may sound like a cliche, but together we can change the story – we can help make it okay for people, especially men in the building and construction industry, to reach out and help a mate or ask for help themselves. R U OK? Day always dominates social media news feeds in the week in which it is held, but my hope is that people are always looking out for their friends and family – and of course their work mates – no matter what day of the year it is. The R U OK? website is full of resources about what to look out for, what to say and how to help. The conversation simply can’t end with the words “are you okay?”

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