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‘We’re in same storm, just very different boats’

12:49pm September 09 2021

Jeremy Forbes, Kamal Sarma and Dave Burroughs discuss the importance of prioritising mental health. (Josh Wall) 

It wasn’t long after Jeremy Forbes heard of a suicide by a tradie in his local community that he decided to do something about it. 

“There was a realisation that as a tradie myself, that we're not equipped with the tools and the support, the understanding, to have conversations around improving your mental health,” says Forbes, the co-founder of HALT, a charity which focuses on suicide prevention amongst blue-collar workers. 

“So, for us, it's about using the correct language and acknowledging things are tough. We're talking to them, they're hearing from a tradie and that tradies go through this and they're not alone and there's help out there.” 

Ahead of today’s R U OK? Day, the not for profit organisation’s chair Kamal Sarma tells Westpac Wire: “I think Australia, we kind of had this genesis of, you know, the outback, you know, ‘you'll be right, mate’. And what that does is actually stops us from having those deep and meaningful conversations.” 

The comments come amid heightened concerns for people’s mental heath during extended lockdowns across NSW, Victoria and the ACT. Last month, Lifeline Australia revealed it had recorded its highest number of calls in a single day – 3505 – and is on track for its busiest year ever with 694,400 calls for help so far. It’s a problem impacting all of society, with many younger Australians struggling through lockdowns.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a major problem with 3318 registered suicides in 2019, according to ABS data, making it the 13th leading cause of death. Lifeline says three quarters of those who take their own life are male. 

“When I go to an industrial estate that has thousands of workers, how many times do you think anyone's gone into there to talk about mental health? None,” says Forbes, who in 2016 was awarded a Westpac Social Change Fellowship for his work with HALT, which stands for Hope Assistance Local Tradies. 

“So, we are missing a lot of vulnerable people.” 

Positively, Dave Burroughs, Westpac’s chief mental health officer, says that in 20 years of being a psychologist he’s never seen the level of attention on mental health as there is now, including from the corporate sector.  

“One of the biggest observations for me is this notion that we're in the same storm, but riding it out in very different boats,” he says. 

“And the normal ups and downs and stresses and strains of life haven't gone away just because (of) COVID. 

“COVID itself, and the sustained disruption of the way that we work, has really shone a spotlight on community mental health, it's really shone a spotlight on vulnerability, and it's really also shone a spotlight on workplace mental health.” 

If this story raised any issues for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 Or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. 

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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