Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By MADISON EASTMOND

HOPE Assistance Local Tradies (HALT) founder Jeremy Forbes has made it his mission in life to prevent suicide amongst tradesmen while opening up conversations about the ‘tough stuff.’

Mr Forbes, PICTURED, has travelled to towns and communities around Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and visited Mildura’s SuniTAFE campus on Tuesday where local apprentices, their employers and local support groups came together for a HALT Brekky to discuss mental health.

Supporting the slogan ‘Save your bacon’, HALT aims to raise awareness of anxiety, depression and well-being amongst the tradie community which, according to Mr Forbes, has a toxic and silent culture surrounding mental health issues.

“I lived and experienced the tradie culture for 25 years as a painter and decorator, and although there are so many amazing aspects about jobs in the building industry, it most definitely has a culture of having to be stoic and strong in the face of adversary; to be a man, and to not talk about your problems,” he said.

Disturbingly, the most recent statistics reveal that suicide rates amongst young tradies are 2.3 times higher than for other men.

“When you start to dig deeper and see the statistics you really see a disturbing trend, and it highlights the tragic issue we have on hand,” he said. “These young men need to know it’s okay to be vulnerable, and have it acknowledged that they’re not alone.”

The catalyst for HALT’s creation was when the Castlemaine community lost a family member, friend and fellow tradie to suicide in 2013.

“My co-founder gave me a call, and we both just asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to support our mates, our families and our partners in the trade industry who just aren’t coping?’” Mr Forbes said.

From that phone call, HALT was born with the support of a concerned community. It went on to host the first ‘Save Your Bacon’ Brekky in November for those in the building industry.

Although not counsellors, HALT bridges the gap between tradesmen and offers them information on national groups such as Lifeline and beyondblue, whilst also bringing along local spokespeople for regional resources.

“A lot of tradies, and a lot of men in general, don’t know where to get help, and I believe that is a major issue,” Mr Forbes said.

“HALT is not a counselling service, rather an organisation that creates connection between tradies and the services that can help, while also opening up difficult conversations and creating an educated community.

“I know what they’re going through. I’ve been where they are, and they know that. We want to make that connection and provide that support.”

Funded by Murray Primary Health Network for six years, Mr Forbes has expanded HALT almost single-handedly.

“I don’t see it as my full-time job. I see it as a lifetime commitment and a calling,” he said. “Programs and organisations like HALT are needed, and everytime we hold a breakfast, talk or event, we save lives and help people. That’s enough for me.

“After six years of working and advocating for HALT, we now work with TAFEs across three States, and communities across four States.

“HALT has now got a whole community approach to suicide. At last count HALT has hosted more than 200 ‘Save your Bacon’ events in hardware stores, at TAFEs, sporting clubs, secondary colleges, Men’s Sheds, in the farming and mining communities, for corporations and private businesses.”

SuniTAFE apprenticeship support officer, Helene Hederics, said that during the two sessions held – one at the Mildura campus and the other in Swan Hill – more than 400 people (students and employers) have been exposed to the HALT program.

“It has been very successful and beneficial. Jeremy is very relatable to our apprentices as an ex-tradesmen, whilst also being incredibly engaging,” she said.

“The more we can do to raise awareness about these issues that many struggle with, and remove the stigma, the better.

“To be able to equip these young men with not only the language to discuss mental health, but also educate them on local and national services is fantastic and invaluable.”

Although garnishing plenty of success hosting the ‘Save your Bacon’ events, Mr Forbes is aiming higher.

“We would love the opportunity of more funding to be able to run and organise a HALT worker for this region,” he said.

“A HALT worker being someone with connections, living in the area and can run these type of events, have these discussions with community and workplace groups.

“Someone who can strengthen the community and save lives. Ultimately, more money needs to be supplied to aid grassroots community organisations.

For more information contact Mr Forbes on 0409 756 274, email haltaustralia@gmail.com, or visit halt.org.au. If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.