By Michael Giles

HUNDREDS of high-vis clad workers, mostly blokes it must be said, walked away from a pre-dawn meeting on Wednesday this week, with a bacon and egg sandwich in hand and better equipped to help mates facing mental health challenges.

The bacon and egg sandwich hit the spot and so did the words from former Painter and Decorator tradie, turned mental health communicator, Jeremy Forbes of the not-for-profit group HALT (Hope Assistance Local Tradies).

He said we had no trouble helping a mate injured at work or playing sport and the same should go when someone we know is suffering from stress and anxiety.

The sun hadn’t yet risen on the South Gippsland Shire Council depot in Leongatha when the assembled staff were called in closer by shire CEO, Kerryn Ellis, with Administrator Christian Zahra also present for the early-morning start.

Jeremy wasted no time.

“I’ve gone through my own battles including facing the ‘S-word’ suicide,” he said.

“I’m not trying to scare you, just provide you with some strategies for dealing with your own mental health challenges.

“And trying to be a strong bloke and dealing with it yourself, you don’t have to do that. We lose hundreds of blokes (and women) in the trades to suicide every year.

“We didn’t talk about mental health at trade school and until recently we haven’t talked about mental health at all, but we should.”

Mr Forbes asked what people thought were some of the main triggers to mental health and suicide.

* Marriage breakdown was the first mentioned: “I’ve had two wives and an ex-partner. I’m not good with relationships. If you’ve yelled at your partner that’s family violence and you need help.”

* Finance and bills: “I include fines in that and letting them build up but do you know how much it costs to get help from a financial counsellor – nothing.”

* Drugs and alcohol: “You don’t have to drink every day.”

* Being bullied at work: “I’ve bullied people at work to avoid being bullied myself, and been bullied but even if they smile at you, you don’t know how it might affect someone.”

* Grief and loss: “That could extend to losing your dog. A friend of mine was really affected by losing her dog recently.”

* Gambling: “I know it’s legal to gamble but you’ve got to be careful to control it.”

How do you tell if a mate is struggling?

A ‘Tool Kit’ booklet from HALT, handed out afterwards provides plenty of useful respources.

People react to life’s challenges in different ways. Generally, look out for changes in a mate’s behaviour. For example, you may see changes in their presentation and personal hygiene, eating habits, sleeping habits, or an increase in alcohol or other drug use. You may have noticed that they have lost interest in their work or their hobbies or just seem generally flat. But whatever you notice don’t ignore it. Be proactive and talk to your mate about it.

Take that first step and have a conversation if you notice that a mate is struggling – you never know, it could save a life. n It’s important to find a private time to chat to and ensure you won’t be interrupted. Be sure to listen.

Say something to your mate along the lines of: “hey how are you doing?” or “I’ve noticed you might have been struggling a bit lately…are you doing ok?”

Listen but try not to say “she’ll be right mate” or “just get over it” as this will likely shut down the conversation and your mate may not get the help they need.

If you think your mate may be having suicidal thoughts, ask them. But try to avoid questions like: “you’re not thinking about doing something stupid are you?” Don’t try to convince the person that suicide is wrong.

Tell your mate that you care and want to help. Ask them how they would like to be supported and if there is anything you can do to help.

If your mate is willing to get help, make them a double appointment with the GP – this will allow plenty of time for the appointment so that they won’t feel rushed. At the moment many GPs and clinics are offering online consultations. If you can, be with them while they have the appointment.

So, whose responsibility is it to look after our own and a mate’s mental health? Everyone’s!

The shire did the right thing by their staff organising a mental health awareness ‘Save Your Bacon’ brekkie but it’s also up to you, if you see a change in a mate’s behaviour or mood to ask: “Are you OK”.

If you are anyone you know needs help, ask them to call crisis support and suicide prevention service Lifeline Australia 131114 or 24/7 support service BeyondBlue 1300 224 636.

An afternoon session was also due to held in the timber yard at Mitre 10 Leongatha at 2pm Wednesday, March 24.

Jeremy Forbes of the mental health awareness group HALT (Hope Assistance Local Tradies) had a clear message about helping your mates at a morning ‘Save Your Bacon’ brekkie event during the week.

High-vis and happy to help their mates through their stress and anxiety issues after a morning awareness session at the shire depot on Wednesday.