An award winning workplace mental health program called MATES has launched in the Northern Territory, aiming to improve mental health and prevent suicide in the construction, mining and energy industries.

Minister for Primary Industry and Resources, Paul Kirby, launched the MATES program in the NT with support from the Northern Territory Government and the Northern Territory Primary Health Network.  

Mr Kirby said he welcomed the arrival of the much-needed MATES mental health and suicide prevention program to the Territory.

“The Territory Labor Government is working hard to reduce suicide levels in the NT – we currently have our NT Mental Health Strategic Plan out for consultation – and we look forward to working closely with MATES staff as this program rolls out to address the concerning rates of suicide among Territory construction, mining and energy employees,” Mr Kirby said.

“People working in these industries have been identified as a priority group within the NT’s current Suicide Prevention Implementation Plan 2018-2023 and we believe this proven multi-tiered model can play a crucial role in the wellbeing and mental health safety of the Territory’s workforce.”

The MATES program brings employers and employees together to tackle the issue of suicide, which is particularly prevalent on construction sites, and connect struggling workers with existing support services.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australian men between 15 and 44 years of age. The Northern Territory has the highest suicide rates in Australia.

MATES in Construction research has shown that suicide rates amongst NT construction workers are 104 per cent higher than for other employed men in the NT. The same research also demonstrated that suicides amongst NT construction workers is happening at a much younger age than amongst other Territorians.

MATES in Construction has already trained 160,000 construction workers, 8400 mine workers and almost 6000 energy workers in recognising the signs when workmates are struggling with mental health issues and connecting them to help.

MATES in Construction NT CEO, Jorgen Gullestrup, said it is not acceptable that suicide rates are much higher amongst blue-collar men in Australia.

NT Primary Health Network Chief Executive Officer, Nicki Herriot, said that suicide rates remain notably higher in the Territory than the rest of the country.

“It is essential that support services are easily accessible across the NT. We are confident that this program will greatly contribute to addressing identified gaps within the NT suicide prevention service sector. We are looking forward to seeing the positive impact the roll-out of this program will have on workers” Ms Herriot said.

The work MATES in Construction has done in Queensland has been associated with a 7.9 per cent reduction in construction suicides over its first five years of operation.

“That’s four lives saved in Queensland every year – that is a lot of pain and suffering prevented,” Mr Gullestrup said.

“This of course doesn’t count the many hundreds of workers with whom lifesaving conversations were had and didn’t get to the point of suicide.

“We are convinced we can do the same in the Northern Territory construction, mining and energy industries.”

A full-time Field Officer/Case Manager will be permanently based in Darwin and will work with the MATES team across the country to run the program on sites across the Northern Territory.

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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