Being Mates in Tairawhiti
For many people their one constant in life is work and they spend more time at work than at any other place.
Suicidologist Dr Annette Beautrais says 75 percent of all suicides in New Zealand every year are men.
“And about 60 percent of all suicides in New Zealand every year are men of working age.
“So one of the most obvious ways to try and reduce suicide in New Zealand is to focus on men of working age, because that group accounts for the largest fraction of suicides.”
Timaru-based Dr Beautrais is introducing tailored versions of Australia’s “Mates in Construction” work-based suicide prevention programme in several New Zealand regions.
In this district it is called Mates in Tairawhiti.
It upskills employers and employees to learn about the signs someone they work with is struggling with life, and how to refer them for help.
Dr Beautrais will be in Gisborne next month to hold more workshops.
So far Tairawhiti is the only region in New Zealand to adopt this programme, with 10 employers on board.
Ritchie Civil became part of Mates in Tairawhiti a few months ago.
Owner Derek Watson said he encouraged others to sign up, too.
“It’s not very difficult to get involved, the support is there and we are certainly grateful for the input from Eastland Group and Eastland Community Trust, which has been tremendous. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
About 99 percent of his staff are men, and the whole team has been through the first workshop.
The feedback had been positive, he said.
“I think it shows support for your staff.
“It has certainly helped them understand what suicide can do to a community, to a workplace, and from there it triggered a few of them to do the connector training as well.”
Becoming a connector meant a few more hours of training at a workshop, where people learned to recognise more suicidal signs and become a go-between, someone to talk to. That person could also activate further help if they needed to.
Mr Watson said he had noticed the increased ability of the guys to talk to each other more about what was going on in their lives.
“And they are more sympathetic if they know people they are dealing with have issues.”
Dr Beautrais said the large uptake in Tairawhiti was because of the social entrepreneurship shown by Eastland Group.
“It just shows you what you can do with strong business leadership in a particular community.”
Eastland Community Trust had also subsidised the cost for employers to become part of the programme, which Dr Beautrais said also showed how committed this community was to reducing the suicide rate.
The focus on mental health in the workplace was as important as the physical safety focus, like wearing high-visibilty clothing, she said.
“If you look out for and focus on good mental health in the workplace that also makes a contribution to make sure people are safe at work.
“For many people their workplace is the only community they have left for support. So encouraging a supportive workplace where everyone looks after each other can replace the support that a couple of generations ago people received through extended families and close neighbourhoods.