Pretty in pink for mental health

Coates Hire is breaking the silence around mental health at its Townville branch in Queensland. Safe to Work speaks with the company about how it is creating a culture of awareness and ongoing support around mental health and suicide prevention.

Building awareness of a sensitive subject such as mental health often requires a novel approach.

With 2020 being a year like no other, Coates Hire in Townsville recognised that something unique was required to bring attention to the mental health challenges that many people have faced.

The company has long supported a successful initiative such as R U OK? Day and the positive impact it can have on raising awareness around mental health.

But the Townsville team wanted to do more by introducing a new initiative that transcended a one-off, annual event such as R U OK? Day.

To achieve this, Coates Hire’s employees in Townsville started to wear flamboyant-coloured shirts from Trade Mutt each Friday.

It has used this idea to break the ice and make conversations with colleagues and customers around mental health that would not have otherwise been possible.

Coates Hire group manager, health, safety, environment & quality (HSEQ), Deanne Boules, believes as a society we have come a long way with our acceptance of mental health.

“The reality is, there is still a perceived stigma around mental health, and both men and women often still don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health,” Boules tells Safe to Work.

“So, if wearing a bright coloured shirt can overcome that stigma and enable conversations to take place that can lead to someone getting the support or help they need, then that is a great start.”

Coates Hire employs 1900 people across Australia, with approximately 82 per cent per cent of the workforce being male, the gender that is usually the least likely to seek help for mental health.

Many of the company’s branches are also located in regional and remote areas where access to mental health services and support is limited.

Having a workforce in this position, Coates Hire’s team in Townsville took a leading role to support each other that sets an example for not just the company, but for all industries.

What also sets the Friday ritual apart is how the idea came to fruition – the Townsville team was inspired by the theme in the North Queensland city to wear tropical shirts every Friday.

In the search for an appropriate shirt, Townsville branch manager Chris Ruthenberg says the team came across the Trade Mutt brand.

“R U OK? Day 2019 was when the team first started wearing the shirts, including a sausage sizzle each week for our customers picking up their weekend hires,” Ruthenberg says.

“It gave the whole team the opportunity to create these conversations with our customers and community. With the onset of COVID-19 we’ve had to stop the sausage sizzles, but we still wear our shirts every Friday.

“Mental Health is definitely one of the issues that can be forgotten about, but I am proud as a team we have all been able to do our little bit to start a conversation.”

The Townsville branch found that wearing the bright Trade Mutt shirts helped to prompt conversations not only amongst colleagues, but also with customers and the local community.

The shirts are a conversation starter because they are bright and bold, but they also have a purpose and story behind them that resonate with the team.

YNWA, which stands for ‘You’ll never walk alone’, is labelled on the right breastplate of the shirt, while across the back the acronym and words TIACS ‘This is a conversation starter’ are clearly displayed across the back.

The Townsville team decided that wearing these shirts every Friday was a simple, yet effective way to boost team morale and engage with each another.

As an advocate for mental health across the company, Coates Hire chief executive Murray Vitlich is proud of what the team at the Townsville branch has achieved.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of our people and those impacted by our work remain a key priority at Coates Hire,” Vitlich says.

“There is no question that 2020 has been a difficult year and I am incredibly proud of the way in which all of our people have responded to the challenges we have faced individually and as an organisation.”

The company’s safety statistics continue to improve, with its lost-time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) sitting at 0.6 and tracking in the right direction.

While good safety statistics are important, Vitlich says it is not a time for the organisation to become complacent.

“Our top priority is ensuring that our people, our customers and the communities that we support through our work go home injury-free and physically and mentally well every day in line with our core value of ‘care deeply’,” Vitlich says.

“That is why employee-led initiatives such as the wearing of the bright Trade Mutt shirts by our Townsville team is something that I am incredibly proud of.”

Boules says the simple conversations that are taking place in Townsville around mental health can be a powerful way to show support, shift mindsets and overcome the stigma often attached to it.

However, Boules is also aware that these conversations remain hard to start, and initiatives such as what Coates Hire has achieved in Townsville will continue to be important.

“Statistics from Black Dog Institute tell us that one-in-five (or 20 per cent) Australians aged between 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year, with the most common mental illnesses being depression, anxiety and substance use disorder,” Boules says.

“In addition, every day at least six Australians die from suicide and a further 36 people will attempt to take their own life.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged 25-44 and the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15-24. Men are the greatest risk of suicide but least likely to seek help.”

Boules knows first-hand how important it is to have conversations around mental health. Her cousin committed suicide two years ago, leaving her family and cousin’s colleagues and friends devastated from the impact of the tragedy.

She says the signs of mental health illness often do not present themselves or are too subtle to be noticed until it is too late.

“You start piecing together the ‘jigsaw’ puzzle in search of answers,” Boules says. “A common question we all seem to ask is, ‘Why didn’t they say something?’ or ‘Why didn’t they ask for help?’ And maybe they didn’t feel comfortable or maybe they didn’t know how to start the conversation.

“So personally, for me, the Trade Mutt ‘this is a conversation starter’ idea is a fantastic initiative that can and has already made a difference at Coates Hire.”

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend