Award winning suicide prevention group helps construction workers

The approach of 'mates helping mates' helps to break down depression stigmas in a traditionally macho workplace

Suicide prevention program MATES in Construction has won a LiFE Award for its pioneering work to prevent suicides by construction workers.

Presented as part of the 2014 National Suicide Prevention Conference in Perth, the annual LiFE Awards recognise excellence in suicide prevention.

MATES in Construction is a community development organisation aimed at reducing suicide and improving mental health and wellbeing within the Australian construction industry.

“MATES in Construction has really taken off. It’s successful because it’s an industry-led solution to an industry problem,” says MATES in Construction CEO Jorgen Gullestrup.

In Australia, construction workers are up to six times more likely to die by suicide than accidents at work, according to Mr Gullestrup, with suicide rates close to twice the national average for men.

Founded in Queensland in 2008, the program operates a 24/7 helpline for construction workers, as well as professional support and assistance to workers who suffer depression or suicidal thoughts.

MATES now operates across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, has trained more than 50,000 workers in suicide awareness, and connected more than 1500 workers to much needed help.

“MATES in Construction’s community engagement model really demonstrates that suicide is everyone’s business,” Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Sue Murray said at the event.

Ms Murray applauded the approach of 'mates helping mates' in the traditionally macho workplace as inclusive, safe and encouraging, while removing the stigma of mental health issues.

“It enables workers to confidently recognise signs that they or their colleagues may be doing it tough, and that everyone in the industry must play their part.”

The organisation has previously picked up three LiFE Awards for its valuable work. Mr Gullestrup says the accolades meant a great deal to everyone participating in the program.

“I guess you could say we are the quiet achiever. Our staff are getting the word out in the construction industry, but an award like this reminds us that not only are other people noticing what we do: they are seeing that we do it very well,” he says.

Independent of both employers and union affiliations, MATES in Construction works across the industry delivering training wherever it is asked to do so.