Suicide gatekeepers in the Australian Construction Industry

A qualitative analysis of self-reported suicide gatekeeper competencies and behaviour within the Australian construction industry

by Kylie E. King, Sarah K. Liddle, and Angela Nicholas

Published 4 October 2023

What's the issue?

The suicide rate of construction workers in Australia is higher than that of workers in other industries. Suicide rates are further increased in young or less skilled construction workers.

Some Australian construction companies are now providing gatekeeper training to staff to provide peer support alongside formal support pathways.

Gatekeepers are people in the community or a workplace who have the skills to support others experiencing difficult times or distress and are seen as an ‘informal’ approach to support, particularly relating to mental health and suicide prevention.

In Australia, there are two main gatekeeper training programs available to the construction industry: MATES and Incolink’s Bluehats program.

The long-term effectiveness of these gatekeeper programs is unclear.

What was done?

Researchers conducted a series of interviews to identify the capabilities (knowledge, skills and abilities, attitudes and self-efficacy), opportunities, and motivation that influence workers in gatekeeper roles in the construction industry.

Incolink ‘Bluehats’ participated in one-on-one interviews between September 2021 and May 2022. Interviews were conducted by phone or Zoom video.

Data collected from the interviews was transcribed and coded into themes. The themes were presented to an advisory group comprising an expert suicide prevention researcher, a Bluehat with a lived experience of suicide, and an expert in program evaluation to confirm the selection of themes.

Some high-level themes included capability, motivation, and opportunity, and lower-level themes included psychological, social, physical, automatic and reflective motivation.

What was found?
  • Overall, participants described the industry as unsupportive of mental health, with some noting that management did not create physically or socially supportive environments. Participants reported physical factors impacted their ability to support colleagues as a Bluehat. Key factors preventing this included lack of privacy, lack of time, the transient nature of the work, and insufficient Bluehats to meet the needs of the workplace.
  • Most participants reported increased knowledge following Bluehats training, including understanding suicide facts and trends, warning signs, and associated risk factors.
  • Participants felt they had learned valuable interpersonal skills on how to be approachable and the technique of active listening.
  • Most participants had strong self-efficacy to be able to provide support to others through the Bluehats role.
  • The motivation was different for Bluehats, but most felt their role was rewarding or had their own lived experience as a motivating factor.
  • Participants reported that life and work stressors were more common than suicide-related concerns among the people they spoke to but that the training had not provided them with the skills to support workers with these issues.
Why are findings important?

Determining the barriers to why Bluehats are unable to implement their training in the workplace is important to improve the efficacy of the Bluehats program and other gatekeeper training programs in the construction industry.

Delivering training without attention to the context may place the trainees at risk of being ineffective or, at worst, harmful to co-workers in distress.

Acknowledging the role of both motivations and competencies of Bluehats is important when considering the effectiveness of a gatekeeper training program. If Bluehats are highly motivated but less skilled, they may be unable to provide the required support. Alternatively, if Bluehats are skilled but have low motivation to provide support, the Bluehats program will also not be as effective as it could be. Evaluation that considers these factors is important for future gatekeeper training in the construction industry to create an effective, informal support network.