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Newcastle Delegate goes the extra mile for mental health

October 15, 2021

Special events such as R U OK? Day are great at highlighting mental health and reminding us to check in on ourselves and others – but for Mick Ghoulmieh, it’s a year-round campaign.

Mick and fellow AWU delegates at DSI Underground in Newcastle, NSW, have led a successful 10-year campaign helping workers understand and manage their mental health. DSI Underground is one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of reinforcement products to the underground coal mining sector in Australia.

A decade ago, it became apparent to Mick and fellow senior site delegate Tom Matheson that many shift workers, especially machine operators on single-manned jobs, were having issues.

“Being on shift work was when the problems were happening, but after returning to day shift highlighted that the problems weren’t just on the back shifts.

“You’re not working on a process line where you have multiple people to bounce off,” Mick says. “You’re alone, by yourself, in a heavy-industrial environment with loud machines, and a lot of time to think.”

Mick says dealing with the issue has been a long-term effort, but while praising the company’s response, he’s keen to note this was something the workers and their union delegates led.

“The company is doing the right thing, but it started on the shop floor,” he says.

“We raised over $40,000 in a decade of fundraising, starting with workmates and their families with World’s Greatest Shave, then including charities like Movember, White Ribbon and the Westpac Helicopter, with the transition to mental health which brought the whole workforce and management together.

“That’s how it started. We were raising money and management started to allow us the time to do what we needed to do.”

Mick says when the union began formally addressing workplace mental health with management, it began a process of relationship building. “We talked about the struggles we’re seeing and what we’re doing about it.”

“DSI did their own research, and now they’re making sure that we’ve got a safe work environment and avenues for employees to use before it becomes an issue. That’s us working together, from the ground up to the company.”

Mick is no stranger to mental health problems, having previously been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. And he says it’s essential for anyone to be able to get help.

“Ten years later, after a lot of therapy, I can deal with it without a therapist,” he says. “If you’re not aware of what’s going on, if you’re not given the tools or an avenue, it’s hard to cope.

“Mental health issues can be inherited, happen through trauma; you may not understand you have mental health concerns and don’t know how to deal with it.”

Mick says the stigma around mental health, around being too tough and strong to show weakness, is a problem, but getting people to talk can make a huge difference.

“When they get to know each other, people look out for each other, and care about each other a lot more. We’re not embarrassed.

“You still have some people who are too proud. But if we hear third-hand about workers having personal issues, relationship issues, a lot of us take the time and effort to catch up with each other. Then they feel comfortable enough to talk about it.”

Mick says it’s not all smooth sailing. It’s a learning curve and everyone faces challenges together on the way. The hardest of all was the loss of a workmate at the start of the year, who had been struggling with his mental health.

“He was involved in a hi-vis mental health campaign last year, but the signs were missed,” he says.

“We got together and agreed we were never going to prevent his death, but it doesn’t stop us from working together and saying that it’s important to put your hand up when you’re not OK, and hope we do catch as many people as much as we can.”

Mick’s capacity to talk and listen has also grown over the campaign’s 10 years. “When someone needs to talk, I’m a good listener. I know everyone at work personally. I love it because I take the time to know who you are and what’s happening in your life.

“We have two other Delos, Kevin and Matty, and I have to take my hat off to them too.  All our delegates need credit for their passion and care and camaraderie.”

“It’s an environment of honesty, comradeship and a site collective of people doing what we all need to do to get the outcomes that we need, knowing they’re supported.”

 

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