MATES in Construction are a charity organisation on a mission to build and strengthen
communities in the workplace across the construction industry in Aotearoa. They focus on
opening communication channels, changing on-site culture and improving knowledge of
what can be done to prevent suicide in our workplaces.
At Switched On Group, the health and wellbeing of our people and their families is our
top priority and MATES in Construction’s mana ake is something that aligns perfectly
with our values.
‘Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari i te toa takitini’
The strength in numbers was particularly evident as 108 of our Switched On whānau
and Trade subcontractors streamed into the Aranui/Wainoni community centre in Christchurch
All of these people had taken the first step in recognising that we have a serious issue in our
industry and something needs to be done about it.
Slade McFarland and Ben Morunga-Toi ran two eye- opening sessions which helped our people
to understand the shocking statisitcs around suicide within our country. They also taught us to
identify the signs that someone may need help as well as ways we can offer them support.
Slade McFarland talks about the “grim reaper report” on suicide rates in New Zealand
Slade opened the presentation with some hard-hitting facts:
- Last year, 685 people died by suicide in New Zealand.
- -6.9% (47) of these were attributed to the construction industry.
- 1 in 20 people have a thought of suicide in any two-week period.
- The construction industry has the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in NZ. -There has also been an increase in suicide in the Māori and Pasifika communities, a demographic largely represented in the construction industry.
He proposed a question to the crowd,
“How many people in this room have been affected by suicide?”
Almost everyone in the room raised their hand. It was a startling revelation.
What was even more startling were the answers to the question that followed.
“Men, what stops us from seeking the help we need?”
Some of the answers were “not wanting to be a burden”, “finance” and “the stigma surrounding mental illness in our country”.
This is exactly the kind of narrative that MATES are actively trying to change.
“Research has shown us that workers find it difficult to discuss feelings and emotions with colleagues at work, and the nature of the work has made social support more difficult. 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.”
Ben Morunga-Toi provides the audience with information about identifying the signs that show someone may need help.
Ben taught us that some of these signs could be changes in behaviour such as:
-Someone who is usually easy going who is now angry and easily irritated.
-A workmate who is usually talkative who is now isolating themselves and not wanting to talk to people.
- A usually social person who is now actively distancing themselves. This could look like them not responding to messages or staying around for work drinks.
- Someone who is visibly finding it hard to cope with everyday things or is struggling to concentrate.
- Someone who is turning to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping and coming to work frequently hungover.
- It could even be someone who is usually punctual turning up to work late or not at all.
It’s one thing to be able to identify these changes but the key is knowing what the next steps are once you do. The key here is encouraging kōrero.
“On-site, it’s sometimes just noticing a change in your mate, and then simply asking, ‘are you ok?’
Step 1 is to initiate that conversation – Ask how they are doing?, how life is? or how the family is? You could mention specific thing that made you concerned and let them know that you are worried about them. Make sure you take the time to listen to them and let them know you’re there to support them. Don’t rush then and wait patiently while they think of their response. Take it seriously.
Step 2 is to encourage your mate to seek help for what they are struggling with. Remind them there is always someone to listen and support them and they are not alone. It might be a good idea to encourage them to speak the Health and Safety Manager or someone they trust on site. At Switched on Group we have a free counselling service available to all of our employees that is a great resource for those needing support (OCP – details) Most importantly, make sure you follow up with them and reassure that you’re always available to talk to.
Chris Hughes, Kimberley Schofield, Slade McFarland and Ben Morunga-Toi
We’re proud to say that 108 people were inducted into the MATES General Awareness Training last week. That’s 108 people who now know how to actively look out for signs of their workmates struggling and know exactly how they can help.
If you’d like to know more about the incredible work that MATES are doing across Aotearoa you can learn more about their programme here > www.mates.net.nz
A massive thank you to Slade and Ben for delivering such an informative and valuable seminar and to Kimberley Schofield our Health and Safety Officer for organising the event,
We’d also like to thank Thrive Catering, the Christchurch City Mission Social enterprise who provided us with delicious food throughout the day.
Mental health will continue to be a key part of our Health and Safety focus at Switched On, and we look forward to sharing future initiatives with you.
Where to get help:
MATES in Construction - 0800 111 315
1737 – Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
thelowdown.co.nz – or email firstname.lastname@example.org or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness – 0800 732 825
Alcoholics Anonymous - 0800 AA WORKS, or aa.org.nz