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Why MATES are important in rural and remote communities

Date: June 14, 2018
Author: CEO, MATES in Mining, Andrew McMahon

 

Key note speakers (L to R): Andrew McMahon, Project Manager, Mates in Mining, Tracy McCown, Lived Experience Program Manager, Suicide Prevention Australia, Malanie Meers, Prinicipal, Anson Street School, Orange, Governor of NSW, His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC, (Ret’d), Gerry Bobsien, Executive Manager, Economic Development and Innovation, Muswellbrook Shire Council, Susan Beaton, MC, Psychologist & Suicide Prevention Specialist Consultant, Prof David Perkins, Director CRRMH

In April,  I pulled on my best country gear and headed to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. I got to eat questionable but highly addictive junk food, buy a show bag or three, marvel at the fruit and vegetable displays, and admire some impressive looking cattle and merinos.

However, the purpose of my visit to the big smoke, was an invitation to speak at the the 2018 Rural Suicide Prevention Forum, hosted by the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. It was a short forum, but an important one, run with a series of small TED Talk like presentations. I was joined by the Governor of NSW, Ministers, members of Parliament, Commissioners and colleagues, to talk about suicide prevention and rural communities. I was asked to focus on vulnerable workers, and in particular men.

To keep to my allowed five minutes I had to make some concise notes, so thought I would share them with you to continue building the discussion.


 

Mining as you know tends to be concentrated in remote and rural regions with a male dominated workforce. Those who work in mining are mostly aged between 25 and 50, work long shifts, love a drink, often work away from their home base including FIFO (Fly in Fly Out) or DIDO (Drive in Drive Out), and as a result don’t necessarily always live in remote and rural communities which can create an interesting dynamic.

There are three key points I want to share with you.

We all know the tragic numbers which represent lives lost to suicide in Australia – 8 Australians a day die by suicide – 6 of these are men – We know miners are some of them. But for all of these deaths and the devastation that comes with them, we also know that this is merely the tip of the iceberg, with 1 in 500 of us attempting suicide and 1 in 20 of us having a suicidal thought this year.

We also know from our MATES research, that only 7 out of 100 men who dies by suicide put up their hand and sought any kind of help before ending their life. This means that 93% ended their life without asking for any kind of help.

We know this behaviour exists in other areas of life too. A recent study of US male drivers tells us that on average they drive an extra 444km per year because they won’t stop and ask for directions. Half of them report driving for 30 minutes before stopping and asking for help and 12% report they would never stop and ask for help. Yet, we have built a service system that revolved around ‘asking’ for help. It says to us, if I am not feeling well, then I need to go to the doctor. If I need help, then I need to call the EAP (Employee Assistance Program). So in summary, a system that does not play to our strengths.

So let’s find our strengths and use that instead.  Let’s find what we value and what we are good at and let that be the model we work from. We have a culture of mateship here in Australia – of standing shoulder to shoulder with our MATES, being there for our MATES and when it comes down to it, being a MATE who can offer help! I am sure many of you can think of an example where you have dropped everything to help a MATE. Travelled great distances or given up your carefully laid plans to offer help – even if you have no idea what it is you are offering to do.

As simple as it sounds – this is what we tap into at MATES, and we know it works.

It is about empowering everyone – as an industry, as a site and as a community to take action. Impressing on each person that it is everyone’s responsibility to take action – not just the Government, not just the local mental health services which may or may not exist. Mining, just like construction and now energy –  has stepped up.  The strength of the program is that it cuts across some of the traditional political divides between union and industry and between employer and employee. When given the opportunity, the industry, the sites, the people, the MATES, have responded.

The importance of creating a culture of help offering rather than just help seeking is my first point.

We do three levels of training at MATES and when we run these programs on site, we are constantly amazed at the wide range of reactions and emotions. From Mister Cross My Arms, Ms What the Hell are You Talking About, Mr I Don’t Need Your Help, to Mrs This is Brilliant, and Mr I Know This. But usually by the end of our sessions we have so many men and women, saying that was the best training they have ever had in their life. When we reply saying well we were just having a chat – they kind of nod and say yeah.

You see, we pride ourselves on an approach based on connection, on speaking face to face , on talking the way they talk and explaining it the way they think. Old mate – he doesn’t think he is depressed or anxious – or even suicidal. He’s just got a difficult missus, likes a bet and a beer and his dog isn’t too well – so I can’t sleep and feel a bit “crap” sometimes!

We know from our research, that the top three factors contributing to our vulnerable group ending their lives includes relationships, finances and pending legal matters. For them – this stuff is hard – depression and anxiety, terms that the health sector uses, doesn’t even enter their thoughts.  For some, they just can’t juggle all of the responsibility and don’t know how to ask for help.

So my second point is to communicate and speak in a language they understand because “mental health” can be confusing mumbo jumbo to them.

Life’s big issues can be various shades of “crap” to them and they need to hear it explained to them that way.

At MATES in Mining we know that by focussing on addressing suicide in a remote and rural workforce – we have also built a more resilient rural community. Take our MATES at Glencore’s Clermont mine – an agricultural town in Queensland. It is 274 kilometres south-west of Mackay with a population of 2,177. Glencore’s Clermont mine is located 40 kms from town employs over 500 workers with some based locally and others FIFO and are living on camp. They have embraced our program and are our longest running site.

These miners are footy coaches, netball coaches, parents, sons, daughters, community leaders, the local mayor – so many of these mine workers now know what to look out for in their MATES – regardless of whether these MATES are at work, on the sporting field or at home.

In total 26 people on Clermont mine site have so far completed the 2-day ASIST training – with many of them living in Clermont. Suddenly Clermont, a town with next to no mental health services, has a dozen or more people able to support their fellow community members who may be doing it tough – and they tell us that that is where they use these skills the most.

So my third point is that we know that by focussing on an industry like mining, we can have a huge flow on effect to the community.

As I finish up I wanted to share a line that gets lots of traction on my sites – and I want to leave you:

As hard as you think it is to offer help – and it can be hard – just remembered it is a hell of a lot harder for your MATE to put up their hand and ask for help.

If you would like to know more about MATES in Mining, please don’t hesitate to contact me at amcmahon@matesinmining.org.au, visit our website at www.matesinmining.org.au or find us on Facebook @MATESinMIning.

If you are in distress or need a chat, please do not hesitate to call our 24/7 Helpline 1300642111 or alternatively call Lifeline on 13 11 14

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