MATES in Construction commemorates 10 years

More than 700 MATES in Construction (MIC) representatives, volunteers and family members, commemorated a decade of turning lives around in an industry where male workers are 71 per cent more likely to suicide than in any other.

MIC CEO, Jorgen Gullestrup, said what began as a small Queensland operation in 2008, has grown to become one of the most pivotal mental health programs in the construction industry nationwide.

“We have now trained an army of more than 10,000 construction workers to firstly recognise what are often only very small red flags, and to secondly, to know what to do about it, before it’s too late,” Mr Gullestrup said.

“Collectively, these incredible volunteers have reached more than 120,000 workers over the past decade, who have registered with the program, and have become our greatest weapon in the fight to keep our workers safe and well.”

In Queensland, more than 75,000 workers have now joined the program, working across more than 1500 construction sites.

“Because of this incredible mateship and support network, we’ve turned around the lives of more than 5000 at-risk workers and prevent innumerable suicides,” Mr Gullestrup said.

MIC data shows that since the program was developed, suicide rates in the male-dominated industry have fallen by an impressive eight per cent, something Mr Gullestrup says is an incredible achievement, particularly given the challenges surrounding men’s mental health.

“Construction workers tend to be very practical people, which is why they’re great at what they do in a work environment, but that means that when problems really begin to mount up, these same workers will tend to seek a practical solution to ending the pain.

“This is an issue that is replicated around the world in blue collar occupations like construction. Sadly, when you also factor in that suicidal thoughts and behaviours are more likely to turn fatal for men, who account for three out of every four suicides that end in death, we have to be far more vigilant.”

While the triggers for self-harm will often vary, relationship problems tend to play a much greater role in suicide among construction workers than in the general population.

“Often when things deteriorate, instead of talking to their mates or reaching out for help, workers in blue collar industries can tend to bottle it all up. They just don’t know how to reach out for help,” Mr Gullestrup said.

Construction Supervisor, Rhett Foreman, says if he had had access to an organisation like MIC in 2001, his story may have been completely different.

Suffering extreme anxiety as a commercial site manager on a major hospital project in Brisbane, Rhett didn’t sleep for 100 days before being admitted to hospital.

However, it wasn’t until 18 months after a failed suicide attempt that Rhett was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, when he finally turned a corner and began his journey back to health, which led him to eventually becoming an MIC volunteer.

“Having survived a suicide attempt myself, I feel a very strong duty of care to help prevent others from finding themselves in that situation too, and I know that supporting MATES and having GAT sessions onsite is such a simple, but really effective way, for all of us to do that,” Rhett said.

“MATES are exactly the system I dreamed of seeing in the industry when I was discharged from hospital. They are the world leaders in their very systematic and effective approach to tackling what is an incredibly complex issue.

“I am so proud to be here today and a little emotional as well to be honest, because this is a real representation of both the support that MATES enjoys and the people it exists for. These people here today are both part of the MIC family, but also the people it was formed to support.

“Congratulations on the 10 years and here’s hoping that GAT training is used on all sites Australia wide soon.”

The program has been implemented on hundreds of sites in Queensland alone, including 1 William Street; the Queens Wharf redevelopment; the majority of Hamilton Reach and the Lady Cilento and Mater Children’s hospitals.

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