Mental Health First Aid in Construction course helping build a mentally fit industry

05 Oct 2022

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Mental health issues are rampant in the construction industry with the sector losing one person on average a week to suicide - the highest rate of any industry in New Zealand.

As custodians of health and safety for the industry, Site Safe NZ is dedicated to doing all we can to influence and create a positive change in the health and safety culture of New Zealand’s construction industry.

We’re proud that Mental Health Awareness Week 2022 marks a successful 18-month partnership with Hato Hone St John delivering Mental Health First Aid in Construction courses to the industry.

The course, which is run in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, helps learners build mental fitness as well as enables them to provide initial support to others in construction-specific situations.

Site Safe Chief Executive Brett Murray said he was pleased with the immense efforts to improve the mental wellbeing of the entire industry. 

“I’m particularly proud of the collaborative approach with Hato Hone St John to provide a mental health first aid course that best reflects the industry’s needs.

“We will continue to build on these foundations with Hato Hone St John and other organisations such as Mates In Construction so we can best tailor our courses to the industry in our shared pursuit to build a mentally strong and healthy construction industry in New Zealand.”

When Construction Site Manager Joe Hodgson was booked into the St John Mental Health First Aid in Construction course, he did not expect it to have such an impact on his personal life.

For several months, Joe’s wife was fluctuating between being happy and bursting into tears and verbal outbursts were frequent, he said.

"When she’s lashing out at you it’s hard not to bite back, I think I did it a few times not realising that there are other underlying issues.”

It turned out that she, like 1 in 5 adults aged 15 years and over in New Zealand, was diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder, in this case, depression.

"She got diagnosed with depression the day I was doing the course. From about February onwards we've been dealing with things at home and not really knowing that much about it.”

But doing the mental health and first aid course changed all that.

“It really opened my eyes up and I could totally relate and now I fully understand what people go through.”

Joe said he “highly recommended” the training and had since been back to his manager to request they “get everyone on this course”.

“It’s very useful. It doesn’t take too much time out of your day and it’s very interesting, maybe because I'm dealing with it at home but it’s also an interesting topic.”

He said it was important more people within the construction industry improved their knowledge of mental health, especially those like himself who have been in the industry for several decades.

A large part of this was breaking that “'harden up” attitude that was commonplace in the industry when he did his apprenticeship in the 1990s, Joe said.

Rusyl Ryman, Construction Office Administrator and Mental Health First Aid, was spurred into doing the course after a colleague did it. 

“It made me put my hand up to say I’d be interested in that because of course mental health is so important to us all.”

Rusyl’s often required in her role as a Mental Health First Aid to check on the wellbeing of her colleagues, "so any skills I can learn to be better at that could only be a bonus,” she said.

Rusyl enjoyed the course and said the Site Safe mental health pocket guide was particularly useful, making her feel better informed to help her colleagues.

“I’d use this as a resource to prompt me and remind me and be able to give those [relevant] numbers and the places to contact if it was beyond my capability.”

She said Kiwis needed to have more conversations about their mental health.

“I think it needs to be more openly spoken about and more normalised and any education to that effect helps us because it helps us convey we're open to discussing [mental health issues].

"You might have a broken leg or a broken heart, but you need someone to mend the broken heart as well as the broken leg,” Rusyl said.

She was especially impressed with those who led and joined her on the course.

“I would recommend it to anyone, the leaders were particularly good and the group of people on the course. It was a cracking group, who had good contributions and many of them were more senior than I so it was a really good mix.

“There were bigger corporations to smaller one-man bands, it was right across. I liked that aspect of it.”

Would you like to learn more about how mental health issues in the construction industry are possibly impacting yourself and others on your site?

If you’d like to be an advocate for mental health awareness you can sign up for our MHFAC course here: