CQU TAFE construction leader Stewart wants to ensure mental health is in every tradies toolkit

13 September 2023
Smiling man in blue shirt stands in front of whiteboard
CQUniversity Head of Course for Construction Stewart Larsson

CQUniversity Head of Course for Construction Stewart Larsson is working hard alongside his fellow teachers to change the mental health of Central Queensland’s tradies – one conversation at a time.

As someone who was once an apprentice plumber, and later a tradie facing his own challenges, Stewart knows all too well the struggles encountered within the industry – so much so that he and his teaching team have been focused on changing things for the better.   

“My apprenticeship was an overall great experience, but it was not all roses. Some of my tradies and my TAFE experience defined the opposite of what I think mentors should be,” he said.

“In saying that, I know all the things I experienced, good, bad, and indifferent, made me who I am today. There are often more lessons in adversity than success.”

Stewart only came on board as Head of Course for Construction in 2022 but he said he was proud to see that the construction teaching team already had a mental health strategy.

“When I started at CQUniversity, the Plumbing team already had a good mental health strategy started, spearheaded by teacher Craig Hawkins. Together we built off that platform to include mental health talks in all our inductions, information sessions as well as informal chats that have now led to a much more aware cohort of students,” he said.

“At the Ooralea campus last year we had a MATES In Construction suicide awareness session which was attended by about 150 students and staff. 

“Now in my Head of Course role, I am planning on delivering similar sessions for our other trade campuses. I am fortunate to have a supportive team who listens to and fosters my hare-brained schemes.”

Although it’s a scheme that Stewart – and CQU TAFE – knows is important. Men are approximately three times more likely to die by suicide than women. In the construction industry, which is heavily male-dominated, men are six times more likely to die by suicide.

He said while the trades industry is a more professional landscape, it faces more red tape, demands from customers and higher responsibilities.

“Like any part of life, it’s all about priorities. If the balance is off there is always going to be a crisis point. I have known of people who have what looks like successful lives go into some dark places. 

“Every trade area poses its own unique challenges and industry advisory bodies seem to now be joining the dots with the correlation between mental health and a sustainable industry. Employers encouraging good choices and offering a balanced lifestyle has a lot of merit in keeping people mentally fit.”

He said it was time for a change of mindset with education as the key. 

“If we can integrate any form of wellbeing into our students’ headspace, that will have a positive flow on effect to their colleagues and employers,” he said.

“The old ‘she’ll be right attitude’ has not worked. It is a heavy tide of traditional thinking to work against, but we are creating awareness at the grassroots. 

Stewart was recently interviewed by RUOK.org.au in the lead-up to RUOK? Day about normalising conversations about mental health in the trade industry.

“Highlighting that it is okay for people to feel as though they can reach out in their time of need. We all have times of struggle. It is human to fall and to get back up again, but at certain times and for certain people the path is not so clear,” he said. 

“RUOK? Day helps normalise those feelings and that it’s OK to reach out for help. 

“It’s not only the people you are aware of that make the difference. It is the ones you made a difference for without knowing that count the most.”

If you or someone you know needs to speak to someone, consider the following National Support Services:

Lifeline 24-Hour Crisis Line: 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Women's Crisis Line: 1800 811 811

Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

Headspace: 1800 650 890

SANE Australia: 1800 187 263