MATES in Construction give support for struggling tradies

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

Construction is said to have the highest rate of suicide of all Kiwi industries, because of the macho or harden-up culture of toughing it out. 

But plumber Justin Geange wants to change that. 

He is helping launch "MATES in Construction", an initiative aiming to help tradies who need a hand.

"We lose a construction worker every week to suicide in New Zealand - it's a tough industry," Geange told the Project on Wednesday. 

"It's a male-dominated industry with some old-school culture that we're trying to come in and we're trying to change. And so our message is about mates helping mates."

Geange himself went through a tough time a few years back when he faced, among other things, "impending job loss". 

Now, he wants to offer help to others who may be feeling the same way. 

"I had been through a couple of months of what I call turmoil in my life," he says.

"The only thing that I could think of to protect the family that I love, because I felt that I was a burden on my family,  was to actually activate my life insurance and take my life and support them."

It's only looking back now, he says, that he realises how that would have affected those he loved.

"I had no concept that my choices that day would have such an impact on not only my family - I knew it would affect my family - but actually my mates, the people I'd worked with for 20-odd years. I didn't realise what an impact it made on them. And that kind of shocked me a bit."

Although he couldn't see it at the time, he now sees that "my life is more valuable than just what I think it is".

And his message to other tradies who may be feeling the way he did?

"It's tough. And I hope if you are listening to this message that you'll do your best to reach out," he says.

"But what I'm looking for, I'm looking for his mate. I want to talk to his mate and say 'start to notice' - start to notice when someone who you care about is struggling. Start to notice when someone you work with is doing it tough and take 10 seconds of courage to say, 'hey, I've noticed you're doing all this stuff that's not like you. Let's have a korero'."  

Geange says there are times when he still has dark thoughts, but now he has what he calls his "scaffolding".

"I've got all these poles that help me. I've got my friends and family. So I'm very transparent with where I'm at. If I'm doing it tough my face leaks and that's okay because I've got all my friends and family around me that actually prop me up."

He also has music, his faith, and a connection with land, he says.

"All of those things act as my scaffolding so if I get wobbly, if I have those thoughts I'm not going to fall all the way over. That scaffolding stops me from falling, from wobbling too far."

Where to find help and support: 

Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737

What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat

Samaritans - 0800 726 666

Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757

Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)


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