3.2.1. Connectors’ Perspectives
Thematic analysis identified six key themes from the connectors’ focus group data: awareness, skills and confidence; removing stigma; making a difference; simplicity of the model; understanding the industry; and visibility, camaraderie and passion.
Awareness, Skills and Confidence
Connectors reported being initially shocked to learn of the high suicide rates in the construction industry and of how they were previously not aware of the magnitude of the problem. They spoke of the impact of being presented with suicide statistics, and of the importance of having awareness of the issue, and in particular how learning about high construction industry suicide rates was a motivator to continue training, which in turn provided them with the skills and confidence to assist those in need.
There was positive feedback from connectors about the value of learning the skills to identify if someone is experiencing personal difficulties. Participants spoke of how connector training provided them with the confidence to be able to detect if something is wrong (e.g., listening carefully; picking up on body language and emotions) and to speak to a suicidal person and offer assistance. A number of participants indicated that prior to training, they were concerned that they did not know how to help someone in need.
I had very old-fashioned views about suicide and people - probably not the most supportive. The training brought me right out of that… and really made me realise how in general terms someone would get to a position like that and how successful help could be at the right times if people were keeping an eye out for each other.
That concerned me that I didn’t know what I was looking for. It made a lot of sense to me after doing the course. One of the blokes in particular was showing a lot of those symptoms that they were talking about. We could have quite easily missed it.
Connectors discussed how that they felt their training was effective in gradually removing the stigma of suicide within the construction industry. They described how through the MATES program, talking about suicide had started to become acceptable, whereas in the past, this was seen as taboo. Several people also mentioned how it was extremely important to learn that it is beneficial, rather than dangerous to ask a potentially suicidal person if they are considering suicide.
We’ve educated people to the extent that it isn’t a weakness. Everybody suffers and they go through problems. It’s about solving the problem, not making it worse, and get people talking about it then and say ‘do you know what, we’re not bulletproof. We like to think we bloody are, but we’re not’.
I feel like the best part of the whole course was the removing the taboo kind of thing. I often thought that if I’m directly asking the question (are you suicidal?), it would be the wrong thing to do. I thought it would be a terrible thing because it would put it in their head and they might think about it, but I found out it’s the best thing to do.
Making a Difference
Many connectors spoke about the positive effects of knowing they had helped someone. Numerous examples were provided of how they had been able to assist others in need and provide a positive contribution to their workplace. In addition, connectors spoke about how they were able to use their MATES training to help people outside of their workplace.
Several connectors pointed out that there were times when workers were not always receptive to help-offering, although this was reported to be rare and usually the case where the worker was using illicit drugs. It was highlighted that although MATES training emphasises that connectors should not feel guilty if unable to help someone, it would be useful to have more opportunities to ‘debrief’ with MATES staff and volunteers.
I had a member one day call me and tell me that he was thinking about jumping off a building that he was working on. I was able to go to the site and spoke with him and connected him up with some help and he got the counselling and moved forward, which was pretty powerful stuff.
The fact that you are actually able to have discussions with people and they feel like you’re taking an interest in them as a person... It’s a two-pronged benefit. The fact that you both walk away from the situation feeling that things are in a better direction and the person’s gone ‘he cares about me, rather than just the name on the shirt’, is the biggest benefit out of it.
Understanding the Industry
Connectors highlighted the importance of MATES being built into the culture of the construction industry, and as such, workers can relate to and identify with MATES. This was said to be particularly the case when it comes to help-seeking. They described how, as a male-dominated industry, they found male construction workers were more comfortable talking to other workmates than calling a general helpline. They also emphasised how GAT training was ‘pitched at the right level’, that is, specifically for construction workers rather than for office workers, without too much focus on psychology/mental health. Connectors also spoke of how MATES was well supported within the construction industry and had united the industry in promoting the mental health of construction workers.
I know you’ve got any number of other organisations that do it, but MATES, they’re a part of us. They’re a part of the construction industry, so there’s that connection with them. Blokes will identify with that rather than calling (a helpline).
The whole thing’s supported by our industry and it’s something that we put together, and everyone pays into, and it’s represented very well. It’s taken off very well.
Simplicity of the Model
Connectors spoke of how they liked the simplicity of the MATES model, which they said made it easy to implement and enable both help-offering and help-seeking. In addition, participants stressed another effective aspect of the MATES model was the clearly defined roles for volunteers, emphasising that they are not mental health workers nor there to ‘fix’ problems. Rather, MATES training provides the skills to recognise when someone needs help, and to be able to connect the person to assistance.
You’ve got your first aiders on your wall, and your mental health first aiders. They’re two different people. You’re going to him for a cut on the finger: well you go to him for a cut on your heart. I looked at that and I thought ‘Of course. That’s just so simple!’
We’re construction workers. We’re not trained mental health professionals - we’re just connectors. We’ll get you from here to there and keep you safe for that bit, and then you’re handing someone over to get the proper help that they need because we can’t fix the problems. We can only help them get the help they need.
Visibility, Camaraderie and Passion
Connectors stressed that MATES’s high visibility on sites, as well as their passion and engagement with workers was integral to the success of MATES. They spoke of what they saw as ‘a huge camaraderie around MATES’ and described how representatives such as field officers were very popular with workers on site, thus making them more approachable. In general, volunteers considered that all of the above factors were integral to MATES’s success.
It’s the one thing that MATES have done by doing that model is with construction workers if it’s in front of you, you tend to rely on it more so. The fact that the field officers are around the projects and drop in quite frequently, it’s front of centre, front of mind. That reference point is always there.
They’re coming from a place of—we can tell they’re not just a contract trainer in to deliver something that they couldn’t give two (expletives) about. It’s a passion and it comes across in their delivery. People can’t not pay attention when someone is delivering like that.
3.2.2. Clients’ Perspectives
Three key themes were identified: barriers and pathways to help-seeking; speaking the same language; and flow-on effects.
Barriers and pathways to help-seeking
The issue of male attitudes, including traditional views such as stoicism and the importance workers place on being the ‘provider’ and workplace culture, were raised as key obstacles to help-seeking within the construction industry. Clients described how they (or in the case of the female interviewees, their male partners) viewed asking for help as a weakness. Several clients also highlighted their extreme reluctance to visit a doctor or health practitioner.
I know with a lot of men, particularly in that sort of industry, they’ve got a macho image that they’re supposed to uphold. They do find it very difficult to ask for help. They think it’s a weakness and people are going to judge them, which is quite sad.
[Female partner of a construction worker]
I had to learn that it’s okay to admit that you’re having trouble and it’s okay to ask for help. That’s an attitude. An attitude stopped me from doing it earlier. A change in attitude helped me get there.
When speaking about their motivations to first seek help and how they overcame barriers to help-seeking, clients echoed connectors’ perspectives in terms of the importance of high visibility and promotion of MATES on construction sites, which they described as fundamental to their awareness that help was available. Significantly, several interviewees spoke of how they were able to relate to stories from MATES delegates and male peers about help-seeking experiences, which enabled them to move past traditional barriers to reach out for help.
Our delegate got up and spoke to us … explaining how he was in a bad situation when he was younger… He ended up reaching out, and if he never reached out, who knows where he would have been. I was in a really bad situation, and having someone that you look up to, talk about his own experience… it makes you feel a lot more comfortable. It wasn’t long after that, I ended up reaching out, which was a good thing.
I went to a friend’s funeral… we were at the wake afterwards and one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met spoke to me about his experience with suicidal thoughts. That was not long after the (GAT) training. I just went ‘wow, so it doesn’t matter how tough you are on the exterior, everyone’s got feelings and emotions and if you don’t deal with them, they’ll deal with you’. There’s people out there that can help you deal with them.
Speaking the Same Language
A strong overlap was also seen between connectors’ and clients’ viewpoints in their perceptions of MATES as being a part of, and thus having an understanding of the construction industry. Clients reported that MATES workers understand the problems that are unique to those working in the construction industry and that they ‘speak the same language’. Also echoing the connectors, clients clearly expressed their preference to seek help from a service within the construction industry, rather than a mainstream service provider. Clients described feeling relief in discovering that they were not alone and that others have been through similar situations. Although one client reported that it took some time to organise an appointment with a counsellor, clients in general expressed surprise that help was so easily and quickly accessible. MATES’ prompt process for connecting clients to help, regular contact, and call-back and follow-up services were identified by clients as important aspects in how the MATES program had helped.
Just knowing that someone that you’re talking to has gone through the same thing that you’re going through and that you’re not the only person in the world that feels that way. That gave me a big sense of relief. Those people speak your language and it becomes even more and more real and more understandable.
He said ‘mate, you can call this number 24 h a day’. That gave me the feeling that if I’m having trouble at that moment and I don’t know, it could be three o’clock in the morning, I’ve got someone to call. That made me feel good. I reckon that’s a real bonus. You just want someone to talk to when you’re upset. I reckon that’s gold.
Clients also spoke of their positive outcomes from receiving assistance from MATES volunteers. They also described the flow-on effects from their own experiences, such as increasing their openness to help-seeking, as well as having more awareness of other peoples’ problems and openness to helping others.
I’m personally a lot more open these days to talking about things and I suppose reaching out to people who might be able to help if I think that’s what I need; a lot more open-minded to the fact that it doesn’t make you any less of a person… All that stuff—‘the big tough man’.
He talks highly about them (MATES), and now when he has a mate in trouble at work he always goes ‘give these guys a call, even if you just need a chat’.
[Female partner of a construction worker]