CONTENT WARNING: This article covers issues around mental health and suicide.
Former construction worker and CQUniversity academic Mick Bowles is researching the devastating impacts of suicide in the construction industry, often finding that he is the first person affected workers have talked to about their experiences.
Mick began his research in 2021 and said research interviews can be raw and emotional.
"I'm speaking to people who have had a workmate die by suicide, and in these interviews, I keep hearing 'I've never told anyone this'," he said.
"In many cases, that's despite the majority of construction organisations having an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or promoting mental health initiatives across their sites - unfortunately, there is still a stigma around males acknowledging their own mental health battles."
Experienced the impacts of suicide in the construction industry? Contribute your experience to the study here.
"Often we associate help-offering with being a formal process; seeing an EAP or a psychologist, whereas many of these workers just want to sit and chat with their mate.
"I think if we promoted 'talking with your mates' more, these workers might open up about how they are actually feeling."
Preliminary findings show the closer a participant's relationship with the deceased person, the more emotional impacts they perceive across the organisation, and that there are significant emotional, financial, and productivity impacts.
Mick began his research after experiencing his own mental health challenges, working extremely long hours in a stressful construction role.
"It came to a point where it was almost my health and my family, or my work," he explained.
"I was one of those people who would hate to speak out, and it took me four or five years to actually have the courage to speak to someone about it."
He hopes to improve mental health in the high-stress industry by highlighting the real impacts on construction industry people, culture and even project bottom lines.
"An Australian construction worker will die by suicide every two days, but you don't hear about that," he said.
"But obviously that happening means there are issues to fix within the industry, and I think it's the industry as a whole needs to look at what's driving that – for instance if you work 80 hours a week, what's that stress doing to workers, and what are the impacts for your organisation?"
Mick explains the unwanted "macho work culture" expects tradespeople to withstand insecure and transient work arrangements.
"There is actually no research out there at the moment about how the suicide of a construction worker impacts an organisation and its staff in the Australian context, so I'm looking specifically at how it impacts workplace and communities, as well as the devastation for families and friends."
Mick is seeking current and former construction industry workers to participate in his research study via an online anonymous survey.
Participants must be 18 years or older, and must have lived experience of a workplace impacted by suicide.
For more information about contributing to this important research, email Michael.Bowles@cqumail.com.
If this story raises issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Or contact the Suicide Call Back Service, offering crisis support to anyone in Australia aged 15 years and older. Call 1300 659 467.
CQUniversity students can access free counselling by phone at 07 4930 9456 or email email@example.com.