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We need to look out for each other – mental health in construction

Mental health and mental wellbeing are oft used terms, but many in a male dominated industry like the crane sector dismiss it saying, “it won’t impact me”.

Mental health and mental wellbeing are oft used terms, but many in a male dominated industry like the crane sector dismiss it saying, “it won’t impact me”.

Casey-Lee Powell runs Red Radio Solutions, a business specialising in communication solutions for the crane sector. Casey-Lee is now a widow following the suicide of her husband Glenn. She has bravely decided to tell her story, in the hope it will increase awareness of men’s mental well-being and suicide prevention in the crane industry.

Glenn and Casey-Lee Powell had been operating Red Radio Solutions for six years, it was in the last 12 months leading up to Glenn’s suicide that Casey-Lee noticed he was beginning to struggle.

“During those last 12 months he began to voice his opinion and he’d wake up in the morning saying he didn’t want to live, and he couldn’t go on; it was a really slow but steady progression.

“A lot of this involved alcohol abuse, he began drinking heavily and he was slowly losing control. As a result of the alcohol, he became depressed and he was being treated with medication for the depression.

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“As his wife and his business partner, I witnessed his personal struggle behind the scenes, but saw the pride he took in his work. I could see people from the outside looking in would never have known Glenn was struggling, and that’s how he wanted it,” she said.

According to Casey-Lee, Glenn had the perception that if people in the industry knew what was going on, the business might be lost, he would lose the respect of customers or that people wouldn’t trust his work ethic.

“There are a lot of men in the industry who are struggling with the same sorts of issues including alcohol abuse and family breakdowns.

“I get to experience this quite a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman and I ask questions or maybe it’s because men feel more comfortable talking to a woman. Either way, they do talk to me about their problems. I can see that the one group that could have been a great support for Glenn, is the one group who would be too embarrassed to talk and to voice their thoughts and opinions,” she said.

“Glenn would show up on the job site and give 110 per cent like he always had, nobody would know he was struggling. I think the point we are missing in the industry is the big stigma attached to men talking about their mental health and wellbeing. Talking about their struggles and depression just doesn’t happen.

“I’ve spoken to guys on sites and their response is “it’s all BS; just take a tablet and you’ll feel better”. Because I’m having these conversations, I can see a large gap in terms of the awareness and the importance of mental health and wellbeing,” she said.

Long hours, periods where they might be working away from home, builds pressure on the individual and relationships says Casey-Lee.

“Guys in the crane sector are working six days a week. They are leaving early to get to the job sites and more often than not they are getting home late. There are external pressures on them, and I think that’s where it falls down.

“Before Glenn’s depression he was full of life, enthusiastic about the business and motivated to deal with anything the business threw at him. He trained at the gym every day, and he was a willing and happy participant in the business. Nothing was a struggle, nothing was too much hassle, he was willing to take to each day as it came,” she said.

Casey-Lee and Glenn had been married for six years and worked in the business together. The business was sound had been travelling perfectly well. Glenn was 49 when he committed suicide. He hadn’t drunk alcohol in his earlier years, but over the last four or five years he discovered it and began to drink.

When Casey-Lee realised there was a problem, there were various organisations that she could have turned to with or on behalf of Glenn.

“This is where I found the system failed us. We went to several AA meetings and I called the helpline when he was really struggling, but he didn’t want a bar of it, he didn’t want anyone to know.

“We ended up with our local GP and he prescribed the anti-depressants. A pattern developed where Glenn would be fine for a while then he would have another bout of depression and he wouldn’t get the help. He wouldn’t want to own up and admit that he needed it. He’d then seem fine and we’d speak about going back to AA meetings but that was as far as it got, he would get angry if I tried to push him,” she said.

There are organisations within the construction sector which are specifically focused on men’s mental health and wellbeing, such as Mates in Construction and Blue Hats but Glenn wasn’t prepared to reach out to anybody says Casey-Lee.

“Because it was only the two of us in the business there wasn’t anybody else for him to turn to. I know Mates in Construction are really good, they put on barbeques on construction sites and encourage the boys chat, but because it was just Glenn and I, we didn’t utilise the available services.

“By sharing Glenn’s story, my main goal is to increase the awareness of men’s mental health and suicide prevention, not just with the guys on site but also with the business owners of the crane companies,” she said.

“Suicide in the crane industry, it’s a fact, and work mates, managers and business owners shouldn’t be embarrassed that it happens on their watch. It is a complex issue and very often, no one knows what the individual is going through. It strikes me that everyone involved in a crane business should check with their colleagues and ask if they are OK?

“I think regular checking in during a barbeque at the end of the week, or a one on one to make sure they are OK is really important. It should also be OK for crane operators and dogmen to say they are not OK and not be worried about losing face, losing the job or a shift as a result of being honest.

“I hope the crane owners that read this article will see how important it is to check in on their boys on a regular basis and ask if they are OK without the stigma of the mental health being held over them,” said Casey-Lee.

Many crane companies are family businesses and Casey-Lee has heard the term time and again from young family members coming into the business. “If I didn’t work in the business, I would never see my Dad.”

“That speaks volumes about the nature of the business and the men that are in it. Because of the hours they keep, many of the guys are out of shape so it’s not just about mental health awareness it’s about physical health as well.

“When Glenn and I were in the eye of the storm, it was very difficult to know what to do, and I struggled. Being his wife and his business partner, I found I was sucked into not always doing what was right for Glenn but doing what was right for the business.

“I wish I had reached out and got more professional help instead of trying to wrap him up in cotton wool and fix him myself. I just hope the next business owner, the next wife or the next crane driver who suspects there’s a problem, reaches for the right level of help, because it is out there,” said Casey-Lee.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

MATES in Construction: 1300 642 111

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