Meat co-op launches workplace initiative to raise awareness of suicide

A major New Zealand meat processing company has launched a mental health programme to raise awareness about suicide in the workplace.

Southland based Alliance Group operates eight processing plants and is wholly farmer owned.

The co-operative's 'Mates at the Gate' programme encourages staff to ask for support at an early stage and also educates employees on the signs their colleagues might be depressed or distressed.

General Manager People and Safety at Alliance, Chris Selbie said the co-operative was committed to looking after the safety and wellbeing of its people. 

"We recognise that mental health is an issue that affects all New Zealanders and we wanted to do something meaningful to ensure our people had access to the right support if and when it was required," he said.

"Mates at the Gate is about raising awareness and encouraging people to seek help early," said Mr Selbie.

Chris Selbie: "This is about getting the message out that help is available."
Chris Selbie: "This is about getting the message out that help is available." Photo credit: Supplied

The training introduces staff to the nature of mental health and provides practical advice about how they can assist and support their workmates. 

In addition, a number of volunteers from every site are trained as 'connectors', whose role is to link colleagues experiencing problems to the best source of help.

Mates at the Gate was developed and delivered by Dave Armstrong, Health and Safety Manager at Alliance's Smithfield plant in Timaru, and Professor Annette Beautrais of the University of Canterbury, who has worked internationally developing suicide prevention programmes

"We have a lot of men working for us, many in physically demanding jobs, and some men are not so good at asking for help around mental health," said Dave Armstrong.

"This is about getting the message out that help is available through our Employer Assistance Programme and that the earlier you get help the better. It's also about helping our people spot the signs of stress among colleagues and ensuring they know what they can do to help," he said.

The programme has now been rolled out to staff at multiple sites across the country.

"We had groups of 150 employees listening to presentations for 45 minutes and you could have heard a pin drop at every one."

The co-operative is now looking at how it can support its farmer shareholders and encourage them to seek early intervention for mental health issues.

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