Suicide Prevention

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 12:33 ): I address the House on a very serious issue—the high rate of suicide amongst tradesmen and construction industry workers in New South Wales especially among young men in the Prospect electorate and in other areas in Western Sydney. Suicide has been described as a dark plague and is a bigger cause of death than skin cancer, liver disease or even motor vehicle accidents. Men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women. Young men under the age of 25 are twice as likely to commit suicide than older men and the occupation with the worst incidence of people committing suicide is the construction industry.

We all know that construction sites are dangerous but workers are six times more likely to die by suicide than by accident. For young men it is far worse. They are 10 times more likely to die by suicide than a workplace accident. Let that sink in for a moment. Despite the heavy concrete, sometimes extreme heights, sharp tools and deep excavations; the biggest danger on a construction site is a worker's own mental health. The stresses felt by construction workers, in combination with stresses we all feel at some stage, are often too much to bear. Debt, alcohol, long working hours, poor job security and physically demanding work are all increased risk factors for deteriorating mental health.

To worsen the problem, mental health is stigmatised to the point where many take their own lives before receiving help. Members of Parliament have a responsibility to address this problem. Members are in an extremely privileged position. First, we are in a white collar profession where suicide is less likely and, secondly, we are in a position to make a change for the better. Economic disadvantage, lower levels of education, job security, workplace flexibility, social support and access to mental health services are all things that State government policy can change. It is reported that depression intensifies on construction sites. Workers' minds are often filled with thoughts of not seeing family, of arguments, financial concerns and debt, domestic disharmony and the after-effects of alcohol and illicit drug use. For each suicide, at least six other people are affected. Family, friends, co-workers and others are not immune from the emotional torture brought about by the suicide of a friend or loved one.

The New South Wales Government, in the most non-partisan way possible, needs to address the risk to workers on government projects. Government will always be a huge employer of construction workers and tradesmen as our State continues to grow. The New South Wales Government spends billions of dollars on infrastructure programs. I note particularly the Premier's bid to be known as the infrastructure Premier but it comes with the heavy responsibility to be aware of the mental health of the men and women who will build that infrastructure. Current and future State governments must be acutely aware of this challenge and strive to ensure that they negate any workplace environments that may increase the risk of suicide.

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