Research — 12 July 2017

DOZENS of Queensland construction workers are dying or facing serious injury each year because of suicide attempts in a crisis causing emotional and financial turmoil across the state.

Queensland is losing more than 40 workers to suicide each year, and a further 100 or more to permanent disability as a result of unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Hundreds more Queensland construction workers will attempt suicide each year in a trend costing our community over $355 million each year.

The majority of victims are male, their average age is around 36 and while the triggers for self harm vary, they often involve emotional and financial pressures.

Relationship problems have been shown to play a greater role in suicide among construction workers than in the general population, with one study putting relationship as a factor in construction suicides at 53.1 per cent compared to 29.5 per cent among the wider population.

Construction worker Rhett Foreman tried to take his own life in 2002. Picture: Adam Head

Construction worker Rhett Foreman tried to take his own life in 2002. Picture: Adam Head

 

The relationship factor spikes upward to 75 per cent among construction workers in the 15-24 age group as compared to 27.2 per cent of the general population.

The Sunday Mail has obtained exclusive access to a new report compiled by Deakin University for suicide prevention charity “Mates in Construction’’ due for public release in August.

Over the next month The Sunday Mail will talk with professionals in the field and men on worksites to examine ways of dealing with the issue and providing solutions.

The Deakin Report, compiled in conjunction with the Centre for Health Equity, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, said it was well established globally that the construction work force was at risk of suicide.

The report has drawn on figures from the National Coroners Information System (NCIS) to conclude that between 2001 and 2015 some 3000 Australian construction workers were lost to suicide in a trend mirrored across the globe.

“Around the world, suicide rates among those employed in blue collar occupations such as construction are higher than those in other occupational groups,’’ the report says.

Suicide does not end the pain”: Mates in Construction CEO Jorgen Gullestrup. File picture

Suicide does not end the pain”: Mates in Construction CEO Jorgen Gullestrup. File picture

Mates chief executive Jorgen Gullestrup said it was unacceptable that the leading cause of death for men aged between 25 and 44 was not disease or accident, but suicide.

Mr Gullestrup, who in an Australia-first will take Queensland-developed methods of suicide prevention onto a London work site later this month, is a former plumber with a masters degree in suicidology straddling the academic/construction industry divide.

“Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are much more likely to be fatal for men than women — three out of four suicide deaths are by men,’’ Mr Gullestrup said.

“Construction workers are often practical people, so when problems mount up we look for practical solutions to end the pain of life.

“Suicide does not end the pain, it gets transferred to those who survive and most people who survive a suicide crisis are later glad they did.

“This is why it is so important that we support each other when we are doing it tough — that we are prepared to ask ‘are you OK’.”

The State Government has already begun the mammoth task of tackling the complex issue with Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace green-lighting $1 million over 18 months earlier this year to helps Mates expand suicide prevention services.

“Unfortunately, these young tradies have a suicide rate two to three-times higher than the general community,’’ Ms Grace said.

“The average age of suicide among construction workers in Queensland is just 36 years.’’

Griffith University-based clinical psychologist Jacinta Hawgood said the macho culture of mining and construction was playing a key role in the stark statistics.

“While women will talk to each other about difficulties, men often will not ask each other ‘are you OK?,’’ she said.

TradeTools managing director Jeremy Stewart said the company served thousands of tradespeople a week and were well aware of the impact suicide and depression had on the industry.

“This is an important issue that needs to be considered seriously by the industry and businesses operating in it,” he said. “It’s vital those who need help are able to talk about it openly.”

The Deakin report placed Queensland behind NSW and Victoria in suicide death records in a period spanning the first 16 years of the century.

In NSW 803 died, in Victoria 704, in Queensland 638, in Western Australia 469, in South Australia 180, in Tasmania 94, in the Northern Territory 64 and in the ACT 48.

If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 44 or the MATES in Construction 24/7 helpline on 1300 642 111.

This piece by Michael Madigan was first seen on ‘The Courier Mail’ July 9 2017.

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