LivingWorks Transcription: Episode One
DOWNLOAD TRANSCRIPT AS PDF
Narrator: Welcome to A World Where Living Works. Stories of science and survival. Bringing together our heads and our hearts to build a suicide-safer world. Talking openly about suicide is so important, but we also recognise that listening to this series may bring up some tough emotions. If so - please talk to a trusted family member, friend, or local support service about how you are feeling. Visit Livingworks.net and click on “FIND SAFETY” for international crisis services. We are there to help you.
This podcast is brought to you by LivingWorks – a network of local suicide first aid trainers in your community, and communities around the world. Visit Livingworks.net to find out how you can play your part in suicide prevention.
Kim: You’re listening to World Where Living Works, and I’m your host, Kim Borrowdale. First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the beautiful lands where we sit today, and wherever people are listening. I’d also like to acknowledge everyone out there who has been impacted by suicide - the pain that it brings to our lives but also the desire to make positive change for all of us to live well.
So, I’ll be talking today with Dr Bruce Turley, who has been part of the design, development, and evaluation team at LivingWorks for 20 years. Bruce is going to talk us through the evolution of suicide first aid training and how approaches have shifted over the past couple of decades, and what some of the best practice training looks like now.
A warm welcome to you, Bruce. Thanks for joining us.
Bruce: Yes, thank you.
Kim: Also joining us today, we have Head of External Partnerships and General Manager of Social Sustainability, Edmund McCombs, who is going to talk to us about how a global workplace in the property and construction industry has been at the forefront of shifting from incident management of physical safety, to thinking about supporting staff as people bring in their whole person to work each day, and what that means for their physical and mental safety.
Hi Edmund, thank you for joining us to chat today.
Edmund: Hi Kim, thank you for having me.
Kim: So, first of all, you both have impressive and extensive CVs, so I thought a good place to start would be to just tell us a bit more about you: what your professional backgrounds, your experience, and what brought you to the place of working in well-being and suicide prevention. Perhaps we’ll start with you Bruce, 20 years with LivingWorks.
Bruce: Uh, yes well as part of the development team I’ve been with them for 20 years and a little bit longer in terms of some of the role within Australia. I guess my background has been broadly enhanced for counselling and counselling psychology, and probably for a good part of the last 30 years, my particular focus has been on crisis counselling and crisis intervention work.
For many years, for about 21 years, that took the form of working through Lifeline Australia, which is the national crisis line network, and I guess one of the key things for that for me was the opportunity to use volunteers to be actively involved in various helping roles in the community, and also seeing crises as perhaps a critical kind of turning point in people’s lives where they have opportunities to perhaps review what’s happening in their life, to think about what’s going on right now that’s causing distress, and perhaps find some ways forward.
So, for me, Crisis Line has been a big part of that background. Then, around about 1994, Bryan Tanney, who was one of the principle developers and founding developers of LivingWorks, came to Australia to a conference in Townsville. He brought with him a whole suitcase of stuff about LivingWorks and he was the keynote speaker at that conference on suicide prevention, and I guess that conversation over coffee led to us talking about how to bring that program to Australia. So, partly overlapping my work in crisis line and with Lifeline was my engagement with LivingWorks. First, in the 90s and early 2000s, getting it established in Australia. But, since about 2000, working as part of the developer team.
Kim: Great, thanks Bruce. We’ll come back to that because I really want to hear about the evolution of LivingWorks approach when you came to Australia and then what that looked like over the past many years.
Kim: Edmund, perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about you: your role, Global Head of Sustainability, what type of sustainability you’re talking about when you talk about that role, and what brings you to this podcast today.
Edmund: Yeah, thank you Kim. So, I’ve worked at Lendlease for just over 10 years now and I’ve had a variety of roles in those 10 years, but for the last 5 years, I’ve had roles that were very central to health and well-being and a very specific focus on mental health. From a personal perspective, it’s something that I have direct lived experience with and it’s something that just is really important to me, to raise the awareness and reduce the stigma around the various areas of mental health and mental illness. In my current role, as the Head of External Partnerships, so, I get to look at the variety of non-profit organisations that are doing great work around the world and align them to the really strong values that Lendlease has as an organisation.
Through my role from a social sustainability perspective, we then get to implement and leverage those partners out in the communities where we operate and live and work. So, it’s a very exciting role and it allows us to have a really great impact, and when you look at the space of mental health, safety has always been the number one priority at Lendlease and generally people view that through the lens of physical safety. But at our organisation, we do it holistically and understand what mental health means to that component and how important psychological and mental safety is, and it’s really great to be able to work in a role where that is constantly something that you get to work on and talk about and get to improve. Not just for our employees, but for communities around the world.
Kim: That’s great, thanks. I want to hear more actually about those practical examples because Lendlease, obviously, is a global organisation, so you’ve got so many different geographies and cultures, but I think, first of all, it might be good if we hear from Bruce about how that definition of safety has adjusted and perhaps how he got to a point today where we can be actually having companies like Lendlease empowering individuals within their workforce to keep each other safe and do these suicide first aid courses, interventions, and take that individual and collective responsibility for each other.
But, what did it look like when you first brought LivingWorks to Australia and what’s changed over that time in how we deal with or learn how to use these skills?
Bruce: Yes, well I guess I had the opportunity to sort of parachute into LivingWorks work about 10 years into their development and there were three things, as I reflected on recently, about what were the key shapers of that some of the early period and in some ways these things have stayed with us right through.
I guess the first thing that been really important for LivingWorks is that its work is very strongly grounded in a public health community health framework. A lot of this emerged out of the 1960s and 70s where there was an increasing emphasis on a whole of community approach, and recognising that if health and well-being was going to be achieved and if we’re able to respond to people in need that this was a responsibility not only of medical and other professionals, but it was also a responsibility of the whole community. So, that community context has been and remains a key part of what we do.
The second thing that was very strong running through that was that given that the community and folks within the community each have a role to play, the second piece was really the intervention piece. Sort of people have different roles to play, what are those roles, how do they differ, and how can we make sure that they’re prepared for the specific roles that they’re willing and able to play in the community. So, the second piece they built on the community framework was sort of the intervention piece and the skills that were needed to do that effectively.
It seems to me too that the third key thing that I noticed straight away when I became involved with LivingWorks and it’s stayed with us very strongly throughout, has been the strong emphasis on the quality of the helping relationship. A lot of programs, particularly in the 90s around suicide prevention, were very much about checklists and ticking boxes and going through a series of tasks, and that is important; but for LivingWorks, that’s always been embedded in the context of the quality of the helping process and the helping relationship. And, associated with that has been the strong emphasis that we’ve always placed on attitudes: that as you think about how you may relate to somebody else, it’s important to be very mindful of the attitudes that we bring to that helping situation, to be tuned into the attitude frameworks that are meaningful to other people and how they may differ from ours. And also, in terms of relationships, just making sure that we somehow engage with people; we don’t just sort of treat them as if they’re not persons in some way. And it’s really interesting that in recent times there has been a lot of research done on someof the common factors that are effective in counselling and psychotherapy, and one of the key common factors, no matter what methods or approaches people use, is the quality of that helping relationship. So, in our teaching model it has been very much about a helping process and making sure that we embed tasks and activities within that process and that relationship.
So, there are many other things, but those three big things stand out: our community context, skilling people up for specific helping roles, and making sure that we engage with people and attend to the quality of that relationship and developing and build trust.
Kim: And in talking about it as a helping relationship, it’s a lot less intimidating to an individual to think, “How can I participate in this?” and, “How can I help and support people around me as a community member?” as you were saying before, about moving from the clinical intervention, but actually that we all have a role to play. I think that’s a really useful way of describing it, is that you’re in a helping relationship and it’s all about that attitude, so you’re learning the skills, but it’s about how you approach it as human beings, and it makes perfect sense.
Bruce: Yeah, well I think that it has been important; and it helps people to build on what they know. They know how to relate. Most people have got some basic skills in relating, so how do you take that basic natural skill that you have, and throw around that or surround that with particular skills and tasks, and ways of seeing things that just make sure that helping is as effective as possible.
We’ve always strongly emphasised the importance that that relationship has to be sitting alongside a collaborative process, where we try to encourage people to bring as much as possible they can to that encounter and don’t feel disempowered by the helping process, but feel that they’re collaboratively working with us, and us with them in trying to find a way forward.
Kim: Exactly. And in terms of the checklist approach: so you still take the scientific, evidence-based knowledge around the actual intervention skills, but it’s about the how you do it as opposed to a totally new set of skills, or a combination of those together?
Bruce: Yes, I think it’s about we certainly wanted to work very much on what we know about suicide, what we know about the lived experience of suicide, and make sure that that’s something that infuses itself into the helping process.
And, I guess one of the other key things about LivingWorks from the very beginning was that there was a lot of knowledge out there about suicide: based on the lived experience of people, based on research, based on clinical wisdom. But how do you make that accessible to people in a form that they can use, that’s relevant to the type of helping relationship that they’re engaged with. So all of that kind of evidence-base and that experience-base is very much part of what we build into our training, but the idea is that you try to somehow integrate that in a seamless way into the way that you relate to people and draw on that knowledge and wisdom.
We’ve also felt that less and less is it important for people to know lots of facts and figures about suicide in order to be able to help. That it’s not so much about just knowledge but more about understanding about the knowledge that gives us an understanding of people’s stories: what’s brought them to the point of considering suicide, what might take them through that to a point of safety and beyond.
Kim: Absolutely, I think making it accessible to every person and any person is not a small task, but one that has been quite successful so that we can actually take these skills and approaches into workplaces now and into communities and in all sorts of different industries.
I’m sure Edmund, in terms of Lendlease, you know, you’re in a company that’s based on the construction industry, who are, not to generalize, I can’t imagine are reading reams of research papers in their spare time in the evening about the latest suicide interventions. So, how do you apply programs like LivingWorks and other mental health and well-being and suicide first aid courses in the workplace in a way that recognises that sort of understanding that Bruce was talking about - looking at the individuals that you have, the very diverse individuals you have in your workplace.
Edmund: So, if I look at the Lendlease journey when it comes to where we sit today around mental health, it probably started in 2013, where we did a global people survey of our employees around the world. And in that survey, we had some interesting statistics where 16% of our people self-identified as being at high risk for depression, 9% self-identified in a workplace survey around having high levels of stress. So, the moment that that came up as a part of the people survey, we immediately acted on it and put together a health and well-being framework. So that the survey was in 2013, our health and well-being strategy framework came out in 2014. And in that strategy, we wanted a holistic view of health and well-being, so we did, “Healthy Minds, Bodies, Places, and Cultures.” And then when you look into “Healthy Minds,” we diversified it even more so, and we identified the spectrum that people might be on when it comes to a mental health crisis. So, fully acknowledging that mental health is that spectrum and just because you’re well one day doesn’t mean that you’ll be unwell the next, and vice versa. And with that, we put together sort of four quadrants: one was around awareness and education, one was early intervention, one was active intervention, and the final one was recovery and maintenance.
Because that spectrum is so diverse and because our workforce is so diverse, we then started working with different partner organisations to fit into each of those buckets so that we could make sure that if an employee had a need, we could capture them within that spectrum of mental health. And then we started, through those partners, working to deliver these programs globally and trying to get global consistency, but regional nuance, because we knew, so, Lendlease is a an Australian-based organization but we run around the world. So, we knew whatever we were doing in Australia, might be really great and there were aspects that we could roll out globally, but, we knew to get the right cultural context and cultural fit we needed to work with providers on the ground to make sure that we understood those nuances, and in particular, the stigma that comes along with mental health, so that we weren’t shining an unnecessary light or making people feel uncomfortable with the topic of mental health, but embracing it in a way that was authentic and resonated on the ground with the local communities.
Kim: How many different countries does Lendlease operate in at the moment?
Edmund: So, there are nine different countries. So, we have four regions: Australia in and of itself is a region; we have Asia where we have Japan, China, Singapore, and Malaysia; Europe - the UK and Italy; and then the Americas, which is the US.
Kim: Wow. A lot of different audiences there.
Edmund: That’s right.
Kim: What about, Edmund, in terms of the approach that you had to take to build that health and well-being plan and framework - what do you think the company had already learned in terms of managing risks; because obviously, as a property and construction company, similar to what Bruce was saying about the checklist approach before; by its own nature, the industry that you’re working in already had robust risk management frameworks and principles in place for physical safety. So, what lessons, if anything, could you take from that into the health and well-being framework?
Edmund: Yeah, so as I said earlier, Lendlease is, you know, sole focused, and our number one priority is safety and it always has been safety. And, that traditionally always was in the physical realm. When we started this journey and started looking at some of the stats around mental health and the effects, particularly that it has in the construction industry, we started to look at our global minimum requirements: so our global minimum requirements are requirements that we have around the world on any project that we work on to ensure a safe environment. From that there’s a plethora of topics that go into there, and we just simply started looking with the guys with mental health on top of it: how could we pull something out of there or how could we create something to embed within our global minimum requirements that ensured that mental health received the same status as physical.
And in 2017, we issued our global minimum requirements, and we now have global minimum requirements around the world for mental health. So, when you walk into a Lendlease project anywhere around the world, there should be a mental health trained employee, at least one, on every project, every site, every office we have around the world. So that we can take the learnings that we’ve long had around safety, and just cast a different lens over them from a mental health perspective.
Kim: Oh fantastic. So, in the suicide prevention sector, and actually across safety standards for some years, there’s been this debate around risk factors versus protective factors and assessing risk or focusing on protective factors when it comes to vulnerability to suicide. What are your thoughts, Bruce, on that sort of debate and what we should be focusing on in terms of helping people to stay safe?
Bruce: I think its directly, risk has been used in two different ways talking about suicide so just let’s start with that first: I think one way we talk about is we talk about risk factors and who is at high risk, and that conversation is really about whole populations of people, so we sometimes see people say, “Oh well, you know this particular group of people of this age group or people with these particular kinds of concerns, they’re more at risk, others may be less at risk,” and that’s certainly true when you look at whole populations. But our concern was, well, so if you’re dealing one-on-one with a particular individual, you can’t make an assumption about who might be vulnerable and to say, “Oh look I’m not worried about them because they’re not one of those high-risk group people,” can lead you to miss a lot of folks who basically need support and they’re calling out for help. So, we try to move beyond that thing of risk factors being about whole populations, but when we’re dealing with one-on-one interventions, we want to make no assumptions about who might be at risk, so that’s the first thing.
I think the second way in which risk is being used is in terms of risk assessments. And, you know, to be clear, risk assessments do have a role, in particular if you’re in longer-term counselling with people you want to get a sense of, “So what’s the territory we’re looking like here, what do I need to be aware of with this person as we go into the future?” and I think the helpful thing about risk is it’s really about vulnerability, you know, “Who is vulnerable, where might they be most vulnerable?” So, those aspects are really helpful.
However, once we began to look and think about suicide first aid in particular, there were several things about that framework which we thought wasn’t as helpful as moving to a focus on safety, which was a direction that we moved LivingWorks in about 20 years ago. The first of the issues was that risk is a predictive thing: it’s about the future. Now, if you’re thinking about insurance, or mitigating danger in all sorts of scenarios, you’re trying to predict what might happen in the future, and how do you mitigate against it. But with respect to suicide first aid, it’s not about the future so much, it’s about the here and now. And so, safety is a much more present-centred concept as distinct from a more predictive future oriented concept. And so, a core thing in ASIST, which has been our flagship program for many years, is how do we get people to a point where they are safe for now? So that’s the first thing: it’s present-centred.
I guess for us also, we felt that safety was a very practical and readily understandable term whereas risk sometimes is a bit more harder to get a handle on, meaning safety is widely used in workplace. Edmund, you’ve talked about that in a number of different contexts, people understand about workplace safety, it’s an everyday term. And so, when we say, “Look, what we’re trying to do is help people be safe, and keep safe for now,” people readily can understand that. I think the other thing that was important for us in this was we felt that in the context of intervention, that safety felt like a very achievable practical goal, if people are considering suicide, they may not, and typically won’t be ready to say, “Okay I’m going to give up those thoughts now that I’m talking to you.” There’s a lot of stuff going on there and at first aid intervention we’re not trying to attend to all of that in detail.
But, for a lot of people, it feels achievable to say, “Well, I’m not sure I can give up on having those thoughts, but I’m willing to at least commit to a point where we can get safe for now, and we can buy time to just sort of take a closer look at what’s happening in my life, look at the supports that might be available, to look at finding a way forward.” So, safety feels achievable for them - and it’s not asking them to give up stuff that they’re not ready to give up yet. But we are saying, “Let’s at least keep you safe for now.” So, the present-centred focus on the fact that it’s a very readily understandable term, and the fact that it feels achievable for people were three key factors for us and not only to ASIST, but subsequently to our other training programs as well.
Kim: Absolutely, and language is so important when it comes to engaging people in anything, and I can imagine that shift in language is not only less intimidating for the helper, but as you say, the person who needs that bit of extra support is then empowered to just think about what they need to do right now, so that they can then unpack what else is happening in their lives at an appropriate time when those suicidal feelings have de-escalated a little.
Edmund, we were talking about how LivingWorks has changed their approach in terms of the language that they use, and what effect that has on both of those relationships, have you seen that in Lendlease, looking at your different cultures, and work groups? How have you had to adapt your programs, or the language that you use, the concepts that you use, within Lendlease?
Edmund: Yeah, so again, as I said earlier, we do have a very diverse workforce that works across multiple countries, and there are different stigmas that exist out there so I think what we’ve done, regardless of where we operate, it’s important that you set up a safe environment for people; so we’ve always been not afraid to tackle the language that’s associated with mental health and suicide prevention, but making sure that when we deliver our training programs that we have people that have high levels of emotional intelligence in there to deliver it in a way so that we can very clearly recognise quite quickly if there is distress or uncomfort in the language. We always want to make sure that we use terms that are safe, and we keep people that way.
When it comes to some particular changes that we’ve had to make, the one that stands out the most is, for example: we deliver Mental Health First Aid around the world to our employee base, so currently as of today, we have 1,200 active mental health first aiders in our business around the world, but for our Asian business, we had to change the name of Mental Health First Aid to be called ‘Friends in Need’ in Asia, and the reason that we did that is because there is a significant level of stigma that’s attached, even to the words ‘mental health’ and when we started the program we noticed that if we called it ‘Mental Health First Aid’ people weren’t showing up. Exact same program, exact same content, called ‘Friends in Need’ and the classrooms were full. And people were proud to refer to themselves as a friend in need just as others in our other countries refer to themselves as a mental health first aid officer.
When you go into any of our offices around the world, or sites around the world, we have posters with the names of all the local mental health first aiders that are in the building so that should someone need help, they can go to it. So, we’re not afraid to tackle it head on, and use the language we need to use to let people know that we’re serious about it, but we do also take that slightly passive approach, so that people can opt into these programs. Their names are on the wall in a very passive shared space area so that someone could see it and know, “I can go to this person for help,” without something being too blaringly obvious or confrontational in a way that would lead someone to maybe not to reach out for help.
Kim: Sure. And I know that you have had some of the LivingWorks programs like ASIST running around the various countries, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Edmund: Yeah, that’s right. So, the ASIST program for us runs in Australia through Mates in Construction, and we have a really long history of working with Mates in Construction. From an Australian perspective, we signed an official partnership with them in 2015 with LivingWorks. In 2018 we started doing some work with them in the US and it’s really had really great effects in that region. We initially were starting it with our employee base and getting our employees on board, but it very quickly spread out through our subcontractor community and we currently, so far in 2020, with all the chaos that this year has brought, we were able to get the program run across four of our sites in the US, leaning into the subcontractor community as well.
We’ve also been able to take aspects of the training and work with LivingWorks and get it available online. So, because we can’t physically get people in classrooms right now, we can still keep them up-to-date on the training and it’s actually opened the door to potentially allow more people to sit down and take the training in a way that sometimes classroom settings might be confrontational for people, they might not want to sit through it. This allows that safe space and a little bit of the anonymity of the online component.
Kim: Well that’s fantastic to hear and everyone works in different ways. Bruce, I know that you’ve done some work on the shift to online training as well.
Bruce: Yes, we have, and I guess that in the current environment that’s proved to be particularly valuable for people to access that. I did want to circle back on a couple of things that you were talking about Edmund. One was that you were talking about your experience in Asia. The whole notion of cultural safety is so important, you know, the people need to feel, they need to look at a program and see themselves, they need to feel that the language is not threatening, that it’s inviting. And culture can be about ethnicity, of course, but it can be also about all sorts of other things that people need to feel that the training environment, and that the way in which it’s framed is safe and it feels safe for them, so that the safety of the learning experience, and even the safety that would encourage them to, as you pointed out, to even enter the learning space is so critical.
I think the other thing that I was latching into in what you were saying, is that you were talking about people and different roles in your organization having different types of training; and it just triggered for me that we started to talk much more at LivingWorks about creating Networks of Safety and that people have different roles within an organisation or within the community. For some people it may be in public contact roles, but don’t want to get involved too deeply in suicide first aid or counselling, but they can identify and connect people that perhaps need some support, and that’s been very much a focus of our Start program and also safeTalk for those who want to do more and to learn suicide first aid and maybe more. But the go-to people in an organization like a first aid officer or a suicide first aid officer that can begin to triage that people to the help that they need. So very much that focus on a whole Network of Safety and people having different roles and making that network work effectively.
Kim: And you can see that actually in Edmund’s example that you focused on employees first and that just naturally grows into the subcontractors; and we heard that with programs with Veterans and their families wanting to do more of the courses as well; so that as you say that Network of Safety where people might have varying degrees of skills and their own comfort in how much they want to be involved in that sort of intervention, or that depth of that helping relationship and to know that there’s different levels and different depths of experience around them. It seems appropriate for every setting in communities and workplaces.
Bruce: I think it makes it more achievable for people too, because people feel like, “Oh, that’s good, I don’t have to do the whole thing,” because one of the reasons why people may be hesitant to engage with someone who they’re concerned may have thoughts of suicide, is that they think, “Gosh, if I take this on, what am I taking on?” And if they know, however, that they’ve got a clear defined role, that, “My role might be a connector, and that’s my role, and I don’t have to do more than that, but I can be that,” you know that’s something that makes it more achievable. And there are others that can pick up on where that leaves off. So that sense of a team approach, of a network approach, just somehow makes people feel more comfortable with taking on those roles.
Edmund: That’s what I was going to echo your sentiment as well, when it comes to any of the mental health programs that we offer, it is always that someone can opt in. So, when we do some of the more in-depth ones, like ASIST, it’s not that someone has been tapped on the shoulder and told that they need to do it, it’s that we’ve told them: this program you will learn a lot when it comes to various mental health issues, suicide included, and you are more than welcome to be a part of this program, but there is the slight responsibility attached to it that you are the conduit to helping someone get to safety should the need arise. And I think when you have that cohort of people who come into it because there’s already that passion to help and to learn more, it’s really great.
Alternatively as well, beyond those really high-level programs, we do have short course programs that run the gambit of mental health supports and even high level, the holistic sort of health and well-being around diet, stress, general well-being, physical activity, and that attracts a whole different cohort of employees. And it’s really beautiful to see that come to life because there are just by default, it’s raising the overall consciousness of our organisation and then bleeding out to our subcontractor community, and then as well our community at large.
Kim: And you can see it from doing a range of these courses, it fundamentally changes the way that you behave and your attitude. The way you interact with people just on a day-to-day basis with families, friends, colleagues, who, when we were talking earlier in your introduction about being passionate about destigmatising mental illness and thoughts of suicide and all that sort of thing. I think that even if you’ve never, thankfully, may never have to do a suicide intervention in your life, but fundamentally will shift individually and collectively those attitudes and behaviours which is just so powerful.
Edmund: It’s really interesting, just as a little aside to that, one of the things you learn for example, is that the terminology, “Commit suicide,” is no longer appropriate. “Complete suicide,” or, “Died by suicide”. And it’s funny, you can always tell if you’re having a conversation around mental health at work and someone uses one of the latter two terms you can tell that they have picked it up from the program, and it’s really good because it starts to change that mentality around suicide: that it’s not the crime, and it’s not something that someone’s committed. And it’s really good. It’s had a very positive effect just in the words that are used.
Kim: And Bruce, how have you seen that shift over the years? Was there any difference when you took your programs? I know that face-to-face is still an absolute priority but with the current times that we’re living in, obviously online is even more important. Actually, negative global situations aside, digital options are always beneficial for wider access and options as you say, but did you have to make many changes in terms of the language, or the skills, or the process when you made that shift to online program?
Bruce: I think, with the online program, we had to be mindful of the fact that you weren’t in a room where you could monitor and respond to tracking the learning experience. And that’s a big advantage you have in a face-to-face learning context that you don’t have online. So we had to constantly ask ourselves, “If someone is online doing this by themselves, does this feel safe for them?” And we also had to build, and chose to build some technical features in there, like there’s a safety button where you can push and get information immediately about helping resources in your community, or those that you choose to add and write in for yourself so that there’s the similar safety checks, that, because there’s no one in the room to monitor that, it’s a way of self-monitoring so we had to be mindful of those types of things that are a little bit different on the online environment.
I think also on the online environment, because you’re not getting diversity of inputs from a wide range of people in the room, you need to perhaps simplify without making it simplistic, but try to keep the messages succinct, and keep the engagement dynamics so that people feel engaged with the process. Because otherwise, it could be a pretty kind of boring and non-stimulating kind of learning experience if you don’t think about some of those things.
So, yes. And I guess we’re still learning about some of those things, and I’m very interested to get feedback who uses it to say, “This was helpful,” “This was less helpful,” and, “Have you thought about doing this?”
Kim: Yeah, be interesting to get people together in a similar workplace, for example, who have done Start or another online program to share that sort of experience because some of the real value, as you say Bruce, of the face-to-face workshops is actually the diversity of experience that walks in to the room. So, as well as the skills you’re learning in the course, you’re also learning from other perspectives, so be interesting to see how that evolves over time.
Bruce: I guess, um, we’ll find out more about it in due course, but so far, the responses have been very positive about that, yeah.
Kim: Great. So, lets talk practical steps here. So, if someone listening to this podcast is not a global organisation, not a global training organisation, what are some actions that people, whether I’m just an interested individual in my community, or I am a small business owner working in organisations where I want to influence them to do more in health and well-being. What are some practical actions people can take to shift those attitudes or start to educate themselves a little more on suicide first and on health and well-being?
Edmund, maybe you can give some examples, I know that you have all sorts of sizes and programs and geographies that you’re working with in Lendlease?
Edmund: Yeah, well I think that the key thing, is you know, there are so many great resources and great organisations that work in this space around the world that you don’t have to throw a truckload of money at something to get really good outcomes when it comes to educating your staff and your workforce around mental health.
We’ve had the luxury of aligning with a lot of great organisations around the world. LivingWorks, R U OK?, Mental Health First Aid, to name a few as we’ve already discussed, and I think everyone can do it through the simple language that we use.
There’s also some approaches we’ve taken where we’ve done small things where we’ve printed things out on wallet-size cards so that people can tuck them into their wallet or into their purse, that has information of our employee assistance plan number, the local lifeline. We’re also creating something in our US business that anyone that comes onto our site, your name badge will be and all of your work details will be on the front, and then when you flip it over is the local suicide prevention hotline number, so that’s something that sort of really fresh off the presses and has not yet even been implemented yet because they’re still being printed, and there’s just so many ways that you can raise the education.
For example, Lendlease has a thing called a Community Day: one day, every year, where everyone gets the day off to go work on a plethora of projects around the world to enhance our local communities. What we have done is every time before the project starts we have a safety run-through, and we’ve added mental health language to that run-through so that we can use the time that people are sitting and working together as a part of Community Day to also spur conversations to check in with each other. So, there’s literally no cost to that, an organisation big or small can jump in and support their people in that way.
Kim: Fantastic. And I also heard that similarly “toolbox talks” on construction sites with a similar approach, adding their usual sort of daily check ins and adding mental health to that which is amazing.
Edmund: Yeah, absolutely, so that’s something we do as well and we always make sure around the world if ever there’s a mental health month or mental health week or some recognised day revolving around mental well-being, we try to make sure that that’s always implemented in the daily toolbox talk to make sure that there’s - it’s a very light touch point, but for someone who needs it, it can be the exact right touch point at the right time.
Kim: The right moment. And none of those things are high in cost in terms of researching what the local services are, putting it on the name tags, including it in your local talks and team updates, so this really is something that any business or organization could do.
Edmund: Yeah, again, because there’s a plethora of organizations doing great work in this space, we are not mental health professionals, so its not for us to reinvent the wheel. We simply align with organisations that share our values and have done a really great amount of verified, validated good work and we leverage off of that in a partnership.
Kim: Fantastic. And, Bruce, what would you recommend that people could do at a sort of individual and organisational level to educate themselves and you know help to shift those attitudes and behaviours when it comes to suicide prevention?
Bruce: I think the main message that we have tried to get across is that people who, regardless of your role within an organization, you can still play a part in this, and at an organisation level and at a policy level, people can be planful about how they set up their organisational community to do stuff, that you don’t have to be someone who’s actively involved in interventions necessarily. That within that organisation, to provide a diverse range of opportunities for people to buy into that process at a level that they feel comfortable with, and to recognise that you would have potentially a lot of people trained in some basic contact making roles and facilitating roles. And you would have others that would take on different roles and I think once you talk to people about the fact that there’s many ways that you can become involved: some may be involved in terms of fundraising to make this possible, some may be involved in saying, look we have venues that you can use, so it’s trying to provide many pathways through which people can be part of an overall team approach.
Kim: Fantastic. And actually, one question for both of you, is, thinking through your career and your work in this area, is there one project or one moment that stands out that you’re either most proud of or you felt made the biggest impact, one that you remember, you know as you go into future projects.
Edmund: So, so this one is a bit of a heavy one, but I think it sort of signifies the importance of the work that we do and why this space is absolutely imperative, for communities and organisations to be a part of.
So, I had the pleasure for a couple of years at Lendlease of being a first aid trainer. So I got to travel around Australia and deliver the program and on the second program that I ever delivered, I was in WA, and it was a standard program, ran over the two days and sort of stepped away from it and went back to normal life.
About three months after the program ended, one of our employees who was in the course called me to tell me that what she had learned, which, as we know when it comes to suicide prevention you’re meant to ask the question directly to someone that you think might be at risk of suicide. And she told me that her son’s eighteen-year-old friend had been acting a little bit strange and she was nervous and worried about him. So, she asked him, “Are you considering suicide?”, and he broke down crying and he told her, “Yes”. The next question that she asked, which she was supposed to ask, is, “Do you have a plan?” and he told her that he had planned to kill himself on the coming weekend.
So, she immediately told him that she now needed to raise the flag on this, she needed to call his parents and she needed to have that conversation. She obviously did that, got him to the right supports and by all accounts this young man is now alive and thriving. I say that because that’s just a story that I’ve heard of. That’s just one example where someone followed up and it was an employee that I don’t have a relationship with beyond I was training and she was in the course and she called to share that with me.
And whenever I think about this, any of the programs that we do, specific around mental health and suicide prevention is we will never know the true impact that it has because we won’t always get those calls to give us a progress update or a status update but the work that we’re doing is imperative. It’s absolutely imperative and it’s the right thing to do and we are changing and saving lives around the world. So, I know that’s bit of a big comment based on what you just asked, but for me whenever I think about why we continuously need to push this agenda forward I always go back to that phone call that I never expected to have, and the positive benefits that came out of the delivery of one of our programs.
Kim: Wow. That just gave me goose bumps. You’re so right. I’ve heard the odd story like that, but you just don’t - you know that is happening around the world and that’s why it’s so important, and why I’m so passionate about it, and you both are so passionate about it, about everyone getting that training and education because you see it and you hear it and it makes such a difference to people’s lives and that one story I’ll carry with me now into my next interaction. So, thank you, thank you for sharing that Edmund.
Bruce is there something that you’d like to share from your experience, something you’re proud of or something that’s really made an impact on you as you’ve worked in this area?
Bruce: So, one of the experiences that was quite impactful for me was a little bit different to what we might have expected in terms of the purpose of our training for trainers’ event.
We’d been training in a remote community and there had been a person who came to that event who decided partway through that they didn’t really want to become a trainer. But they said at the end, they actually left the training for a period of time and came back, and they said at the end, “This whole training for trainers has totally changed my life. I am not going to be a trainer but I know I am an influential person in my community, and I’m going to go back and tell them that some of the things that I have been saying about how we should respond to suicide were wrong. That they were not encouraging people to come forward, that they were increasing stigma, and that I’m going to go back and say I was wrong about that; here is what I think we should be doing and I would like to work with you to encourage us to move forward with that different approach.”
And I thought that was amazing because it was someone who didn’t end up being a trainer but who took the messaging back and tried to create an environment in his community which made it much more possible that people would, (a) get the training, and (b) work with the training, and that those messages would get the support by leaders in that community and that was a very powerful thing for the whole group to hear. He came back and said that to the group on the last day of the training for trainers.
So, that for me was one of the most powerful things. It wasn’t what you might call front and centre about learning the basic skills, but it spoke to that wider issue of breaking down stigma and creating an environment where safety is more possible and I think it also took a lot for him to go back and say that to his community. So, that was very powerful for me.
Kim: I love that. It does take a lot to say, “Do you know what? All these terms and phrases that I’ve been using might not have been very helpful.” Not everyone has to be the first aider, not everyone has to be the trainer, but everyone is in a position of influence in some way even if it’s simply within their family and carer friends network where doing the sort of basic piece of education, the you know, hour-and-a-half of training or the half-day training. All those things that just can help with that collective shift will be useful and hearing that story about a person in a position of influence within a whole community and that shift that in turn has the opportunity to change so many people’s approaches to supporting each other and having that helping relationship, as you say, Bruce.
So that’s all the questions I have for you today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners today about the work that you’ve been doing or something coming up that you’d like them to be aware of?
Edmund: From my perspective, I think the thing to understand if you’re an organisation listening to this is: it’s never too late to start. And no matter what you do is a step in the right direction so whether it’s getting free information cards from a locally respected organisation or going the full bang and rolling out programs and doing exactly what we did with the health and well-being strategy, doing something is better than doing nothing and when it comes to suicide prevention in particular, you would much rather ask the question than to not ask the question and it’s just important overall particularly in this current climate that we’re living through is to just check in on each other because day-by-day different things are presenting themselves and we all need to look after each other particularly during this time more than ever.
Kim: Absolutely, thanks Edmund. Bruce, anything else that you’d like to share?
Bruce: I think the point that you made Edmund is so powerful and I don’t know that I’d want to elaborate on that too much because it’s something that I would echo. From LivingWorks perspective, I guess encouraging people to look at the range of options that may be available to equip you for a role, whatever that may be, and to look at how you may collectively as a group of people think about what training might be best suited to your needs in your community and in your organisation. And, as Edmund is saying, doing anything constructive that’s focused on the right things is going to be better than sitting on the sideline and being a bystander, so encouraging people not to be bystanders but to be participants in this process is really powerful.
Kim: Definitely is, thank you very much. And, look I just want to thank both of you for your time and insights today. I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating the work that you do. I know it’s not always an easy task, so I really appreciate it and I know that there’s a lot examples you could be sharing so I encourage people to check out LivingWorks website; check out Lendlease if you want to have a look at their framework and activities and you can learn some more. So, thank you again to Bruce and Edmund.
Bruce: Thank you.
Edmund: Thank you.
Narrator: If you’ve enjoyed this episode, we’d love you to subscribe on the usual channels, write a five-star review, and most importantly, share it with your family, friends, and colleagues on social media, tagging LivingWorks
This podcast is brought to you by LivingWorks - a network of local suicide first aid trainers in your community, and communities around the world. Visit Livingworks.net to find out how you can play your part in suicide prevention.
A reminder that if this episode has brought up tough emotions for you, talk to a trusted family member, friend, or local support service about how you’re feeling. Visit LivingWorks.net and click on “FIND SAFETY” for international crisis services, we are there to help you.