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UniSA investigates construction suicides to help save lives

New research from the University of South Australia (UniSA) is investigating the reasons behind the construction sector’s high rates of suicide.

The research, supported by MATES in Construction and the Alison Milner Memorial Scholarship, aims to identify interventions that could help save lives.

Every year 190 Australians working in the construction industry take their own lives.

Lead researcher and UniSA PhD candidate, Simon Tyler, has identified 26 potential drivers of suicide for construction industry workers. He said while many motivators are known, others have received little attention.

“Given the nature of building and construction, it’s extremely disturbing to know that construction workers are six times more likely to die from suicide than from a workplace accident,” Tyler says.

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“This is a terrible reality for workers and their families.

“Part of the problem resides in the industry itself – it’s highly transient, with most workers employed on a project-by-project basis – so there’s little opportunity for workers to build workplace supports or friendships.

Tyler said another issue is persistent stereotypical concepts of masculinity, which can have a big impact on mental health.

“When workers put up strong exteriors to detract from their issues or insecurities, they’re also shielding themselves from supports,” he said.

“Unfortunately, such unhelpful masculine attitudes and behaviours can result in negative outcomes, such as bullying, which can escalate over time.

“By examining these and other potential stressors in the sector, including work hours, job demands and legislations, we hope to develop best practice approaches to reduce rates of suicide.”

Australian Construction Industry Forum forecasts show the building and construction sector as an economic powerhouse amid COVID-19, yet its workers are struggling.

Senior UniSA researcher and mental health and suicide prevention expert, Professor Nicholas Procter, says it’s time to draw attention to the serious issues affecting construction industry workers.

“Asking important questions, such as ‘Are you OK?” can certainly interrupt the suicide trajectory,” Procter says.

“We can have so many touchpoints – at home, at work, even in a casual conversation with a person we may meet for just a brief period. But by making the most of various touchpoints we might just give some support to a person in distress.

“Suicide prevention is best achieved when individuals and communities play a part in understanding and responding to a person in need.”

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

MATES in Construction: 1300 642 111

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