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Mental health in construction: Mates in Construction

Find out how the Mates in Construction program supports the mental health and wellbeing of construction workers.

Mates in Construction Initiative 2
  • Workers and employers launched the Mates in Construction program to address the high rates of suicide among construction workers. This bipartisan approach was key to the program’s success. 
  • The program offers training to increase awareness about mental health and suicide, facilitates peer support networks and provides a 24/7 support line.  
  • Workers say they are now more likely to seek help if they are struggling.  

Workers and employers concerned about high rates of suicide in the construction industry realised they needed to work together to address the situation.  

“People were saying that someone should be doing something about this … the someone was actually us. If we wanted change, then we had to create change ourselves."

Jorgen Gullestrup, Mates in Construction Founder

Several aspects about the construction industry meant it needed a specifically designed program: 

  • the prevalence of subcontractors, which meant workers typically don’t have a long-term relationship with employers 
  • the competitive nature of jobs 
  • the existing culture around risk management and physical safety on sites.  
Mates in Construction Initiative

Mates in Construction is based on 4 pillars: 

  • raising awareness of suicide e.g. through training 
  • building resilience through peer networks e.g. by training ‘Connectors’  
  • connecting workers in need through the peer network and a 24/7 support line 
  • conducting research and collecting data to enable evaluation.  

Research shows Mates in Construction has improved mental health and suicide literacy, increased help seeking, reduced stigma and positively impacted inter-personal relationships. The Mates program has also been adapted for the mining and energy industries.  

The Mates in Construction program highlights some key lessons for others: 

  • Foster a bipartisan approach that includes workers and employers.  
  • Design the program to suit your intended audience. Seek out open and honest input and feedback from workers, which may need to be away from managers and employers.  
  • Link activities to evidence and research, including input from mental health and suicide prevention experts.  
  • Don’t start with the solution. Test and pilot activities with your target audience. 

More recently, the MATES in Construction program has successfully expanded into three regional communities in NSW - Ulladulla, Albury-Wodonga and Tamworth.

This project involved expanding the successful MATES program into construction sites and related workplaces in a format that meets the needs of workers in these regional NSW communities.

The project aimed to raise worker awareness of suicide and the precipitating factors through participation in General Awareness Training (GAT), with workers then encouraged to participate in Connector training, followed by Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

The three areas were chosen as industry leaders in these communities had previously expressed an interest in MATES, and all three were also all impacted by environmental disasters (drought, bushfire), recession, and the COVID19 pandemic.

A mixed methods evaluation carried out to assess the impact of the program on the three areas found that exposure to GAT significantly increased participant willingness to seek help from a range of both formal and informal sources. 

The qualitative findings indicated that the MATES program was experienced as worthwhile and valid program by recently trained Connector and ASIST volunteers. 

The expansion of the MATES in Construction program to the three communities was assisted by the NSW Government through the NSW State Insurance Regulatory Authority and its Recovery Boost program. 

  • Construction
  • All locations
  • Published 04 Oct 2022
  • Updated 25 Jul 2023