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AT A TIME WHEN THE GOVERNMENT HAS PRIORITISED AND UNDERLINED ITS COMMITMENT TO NATIONWIDE WELLBEING BY CREATING THE WELLBEING BUDGET, CONSTRUCTION ACCORD AND BROADER OUTCOMES PROCUREMENT GUIDELINES, A NEW INITIATIVE IS ALREADY MAKING A BIG IMPACT IN ADVANCING MENTAL HEALTH AND SOCIAL WELFARE WHERE IT MATTERS IN NEW ZEALAND’S BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION SECTORS.
 

MATES in Construction commenced delivery into the New Zealand construction industry in November 2019, with a single-minded purpose: to promote the prevention and control of mental illness for people engaged in the construction industry, by raising awareness of depression and suicide prevention in the workplace, and ensuring the help offered is practical, professional and appropriate.

Established at the invitation of the construction industry, and funded by it, MATES In Construction - or MATES for short - has charitable status and is governed by a NZ Board of Directors, says CEO Victoria McArthur. Formerly General Manager of The Keystone Trust, Victoria is hugely passionate about making a difference in this area.

“The rate of suicide in our sector is unacceptably high,” says Victoria. “We work in the worst sector in New Zealand. The 2019 BRANZ report Suicide in the NZ Construction Industry Workforce says that in the year to June 2019 685 people died by suicide in New Zealand, of which 6.9% (47) of these were attributed to the construction industry; the highest proportion of suicides across all industries in NZ. We have to do something about it.”

This is the fundamental starting point for MATES. At its core, the MATES programme builds and strengthens communities in the workplace and across the industry, says Victoria. “We’re helping people, sites and companies to be supportive and provide an environment that encourages positive wellbeing. “We’re focused on raising awareness, building capacity, providing help and research. On site, it’s all about noticing a change in your mate, and then asking, ‘are you ok?’ We are working to equip people on site to recognise the signs that can lead to suicide, and to ensure that people are on site who can help usefully. And we need more companies to sign up.”

Now staffed with four Field Officers and Case Manager Gloria Vetekina, MATES has achieved much in New Zealand in a short time. In four short months, 1932 workers have been inducted, 29 sites are now delivering MATES programmes – including Commercial Bay, Pacifica, Westfield Newmarket, 10 Madden Street, the Sylvia Park expansion and the Auckland City Mission redevelopment – and 30 people have been trained as Connectors on site.

MATES is also working alongside a rapidly growing number of organisations to deliver the programme, including Kāinga Ora, as a horde of companies rush to get involved.

Ultimately, says Victoria, this is because recognition is growing that suicide is everyone’s business. “Suicide affects pretty nearly everyone in the country in one way or another. We therefore need to work together to reduce our significant suicide numbers – so it is very encouraging to see that our industry is really getting behind this programme.

“There has been so much positive reaction to the help that we are bringing to site, but there is still a long way to go. We are always looking for funding, and we need many more organisations to partner with us so we can deliver our programme more widely and spread our message that everyone can do something about this: Be a mate to help a mate.

If you or a MATE is struggling, this is not the time to be doing it tough on your own!
MATES is here to support everyone in our industry right across New Zealand, especially during these uncertain times. If you need some help for yourself or a MATE call 0800 111 315 or free text 5353 now. 
Click here for further information.​