Thousands of construction sites will have an unusual addition on Thursday, as construction workers plant flags to highlight the industry’s suicide epidemic.
Every year, 190 Australian construction workers will take their lives – or one every two days. That rate is six times higher than the number of workers killed by workplace accidents, the MATES in Construction program said on Thursday.
MATES builds networks of support on-site with more than 20,000 volunteers having undergone training to identify workers and colleagues at risk of suicide, and provide support.
And according to MATES in Construction NSW CEO Brad Parker, the nature of the industry poses major challenges for worker wellbeing.
“Young construction workers are more than twice as likely to die from suicide than other young men,” Parker said.
“Job insecurity, high work demands, financial stress, relationship breakdowns, and mental health challenges all put workers at risk, while the transient nature of our industry can make it hard to build strong support networks.
“The traditional blokey culture, where people don’t discuss emotions and feelings with workmates, can also pose a challenge to people getting the help they need.”
Parker said the annual Fly the Flag Day aims to highlight the problem and break down the stigma of asking for help, while celebrating the volunteers who have undergone the training.
“Covid-19 has made these efforts more important than ever this year, with many workers facing greater social isolation, uncertainty, and financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.”
R U OK Day
R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton said 2020 has been one of the most challenging years, and reminded Australians that it’s important to check in, as Lifeline received its largest number of calls in its 57-year history on Tuesday 8 September, with 3,3268 Australians calling for help.
According to empathy expert Daniel Murray, it’s especially critical that businesses understand their role in supporting employee wellbeing.
“Workplace culture massively affects a business and those in that workplace. Every second of our lives, the human body sends about 11 million bits of data to the brain for processing,” Murray said.
“Our conscious brain, however, only processes about 40 bits of data each second, so most of the processing is done in the subconscious brain.
“What this means is that we’re constantly taking in signals even if we don’t necessarily realise it. If our working environment is one filled with aggression, we’re going to be receiving those signals of stress and discomfort, which will go on to impair how we feel and how we make decisions.”
He said workplaces need to move beyond one-way communication and encourage open dialogue, curiosity and trust.
“Leaders can help by creating spaces where relationship-building conversations can happen and by asking open-ended questions, even if they know the answer, to promote curiosity and encourage people to ask ‘why’.”
But on R U OK? Day, it’s also critical to know how to follow-up that first question, Newton said.
“R U OK?Day is a day to think about someone other than yourself and, if you are well and able, be willing to support those around you who might be struggling,” said Newton.
“But we also acknowledge that sometimes you might feel a little uncomfortable or awkward if someone says they’re not okay.
“That’s an understandable reaction and it’s why this year we’re reminding Australians there’s more to say after R U OK? and encouraging them to learn what to say next. It’s important we know how to keep the conversation going because a conversation really can change a life.”
The group says it’s important to have these conversations in safe, private places and that you approach them with an open mind and are prepared for a ‘no’, answer.
If someone isn’t okay, R U OKAY? suggested following up with:
“What’s been happening?”
“Have you been feeling this way for a while?”
“I’m here to listen if you want to talk more.”
“I’m not going to pretend I know what it’s like for you, but I’m here to listen to why you feel the way you do.”
“It sounds like that would be really tough. How are you going with managing it?”
“Do you feel like chatting a bit longer? I’m ready to listen.”
“So, what was that like?”
“That’s tough. Keep talking, I’m listening.”
“What you’re going through isn’t easy. It’s good we can talk about it.
“Thank you for sharing this with me. That can’t have been easy for you.”
“Take your time, I’m here for you.”
“If there’s something you’re unsure about sharing with me right now, I just want you to know I’m here when you’re ready?”
And be prepared for someone to be unwilling to talk. If they’re not ready to open up, just let them know that you care but don’t push them into talking.
R U OK? Day this year also coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day, with Lifeline Australia chairman John Brogden saying this year it’s more important than ever to reach out.
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800 (all day, every day)
Lifeline - 13 11 14 (all day, every day. Online support 7pm-4am daily)
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636 (all day, every day. Online support 3pm-midnight every day)
Suicide Callback Service – 1300 659 467 (all day, every day)
eHeadspace - 1800 650 890 (9am-1am daily)