Brofessional helps his MATES in Construction

By James Perry
This article discusses suicide and mental health.

Former Māori All Black, and star of Māori Television's CODE, Slade McFarland is now helping raise suicide awareness within the construction industry.

McFarland is the Field Officer for MATES In Construction, the suicide prevention programme that aims to reduce the number of suicide incidents across the industry. 

The program will be delivered at Kāinga Ora building sites across Auckland initially, where the intention is to help not only the workers themselves but beyond.

"What that looks like for them, how can we help and actually try and upskill them as much as possible.

“So you know it's a skill that's transferable so hopefully going from the construction site, then on to their families," he says.

The former Blues, Chiefs and Crusaders hooker worked in various roles in the industry throughout his playing career, and says he can relate first hand to the struggles construction workers are going through. 

"Construction and rugby kind of worked well together in regards to making ends meet.

“But then when you're doing it full time, all of a sudden you're going from six o'clock in the morning finishing at five, then trying to take care of family.”

"It's a massive change when you don't have those kinds monetary stresses and then all of a sudden they arrive, and you can't cope with those kinds of things it's really quite difficult, and that's where I was," McFarland says.

In the year to June 2019, 47 people in the construction industry took their own lives. 

CEO of Signature Homes, Gareth Ready, one of Kāinga Ora's building partners where the program will be rolled out, says the initiative is timely, "the pressure is significant and just to have some tools in behind, some conversation starters and some awareness that's certainly a good place to start, and follow through with."

"We've been exposed to someone trying to commit suicide through one of our sub-contractors, one of our merchants and it filters through every trade and it also goes to the top of management levels and things like that."

MATES In Construction was established in Australia in 2008, and was launched in New Zealand in October last year. The organisation focuses on opening up communication channels, changing on-site culture and improving knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide in New Zealand’s construction industry. It’s all about mates helping mates.

McFarland says they aim to bring that message to the construction industry:

"Making them fully aware they don't have to be the macho man all the time, Randy Savage type material.

“All we wanting is that pastoral care in regards to making sure that they can transfer those skills, that they can take those things home and have those conversations with their family."

He's is aware of the challenges that are ahead in trying to break down the barriers.

"It's not easy, these guys are working long hours let alone what that looks like, relationship wise with their families."

If you are concerned for someone, or you are worried about your mental health, please call 0508 828 865 or 0508 TAUTOKO.