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Two tradies sitting down at work and looking at an iPad.
Recent statistics show the building and construction industry has one of the highest suicide rates of any sector in New Zealand. Work stress can be a major contributor.

Starting the conversation

The traditionally macho industry generally sees blokes toughing it out and dealing with their issues alone, often using alcohol and substance abuse to hide the pain.

These feelings of being overwhelmed, seeing no way out, and a sense of hopelessness can lead to dark thoughts, which may tip a vulnerable person over the edge in times of crisis.

Site Safe has released the Suicide in New Zealand’s Construction Industry Workforce report, reviewing 10 years’ of coroners reports of construction industry workers taking their own lives. It found that 32% of all cases were related to workplace pressures such as:

  • Job insecurity during uncertain economic times like these
  • Stress over meeting deadlines

Mental illness causes more work impairment and days of work lost than many other chronic conditions. The most recent Southern Cross Health Society and Business NZ Workplace Wellness Report estimated 7.4 million workdays were lost through absenteeism in 2018.

Mates in construction

Off the back of these stats, the construction industry has launched an on-site programme called Mates In Construction, encouraging tradies to talk about their issues, rather than toughing it out alone. The programme aims to provide skills that will help workers to:

  • Talk with someone that’s ‘doing it tough’
  • Help them recognise the signs of someone who’s struggling
  • Establish worker support for mates in the workplace

The “harden up” mentality so prominent in the construction industry can make it hard to reach out for support. This programme helps employers to establish a healthy, supportive environment at the workplace, starting with a simple premise:

  • Noticing a change in your workmate’s behaviour
  • Asking “are you ok?”
  • Taking the time to listen to the answer

Worksite bullying is also covered in the programme because the words you say in passing can often have a long-term negative affect on someone who is already struggling.

Start the conversation

Being mindful of mental health on the job can take courage. It might mean opening up and letting your workmates know you’re going through hard times, or reaching out to a mate when you see someone who’s struggling.

Outside of the workplace, men’s groups offer positive support environments where men can open up to one another organically, without the stigma of being judged by co-workers. These groups gather through churches, community centres, sports groups or mates, and offer an important outlet for those who don’t have a supportive workplace or home environment. And if things don’t improve then medical advice may be the best option.

On the worksite, if you notice someone doing it tough, instead of saying “she’ll be right mate”, find an opportunity to start the conversation; take them aside on the site or give them a call and start the conversation with “are you OK?”

For more information search for the Southern Cross Health Society and Business NZ Workplace report.

What can you do to help

  1. Start the conversation – ask are you OK?
  2. Look for changes in behaviour in workmates.
  3. Encourage empathy and banter rather than bullying.
  4. Reach out for help if you’re doing it tough.

Where to find help and support:

Need to talk? Call or text 1737
What's Up 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
Lifeline 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Youthline 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
Samaritans 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)