If you’ve ever been worried about someone’s mental health, and wanted to start a conversation with them about it but weren’t sure how, you’re not alone. And amongst tradies those conservations are especially hard—which may be why blue collar jobs have the highest suicide rates in Australia.
Dan Allen and Edward Ross are two young blokes (who happen to be tradies themselves) who decided something needed to be done about the statistics. But how to encourage blue collar workers to check in with a mate who might be struggling with their mental health? Their solution was to create bold patterned high vis shirts with ‘This Is A Conversation Starter’ emblazoned on the back—the idea being to get people talking about mental health—and so TradeMutt was born.
Starting conversations wasn’t enough for the duo though, and they recently launched TIACS, a foundation funded by the sale of the shirts and donations to provide free mental health support over the phone. We had a chat to Dan, one half of the inspiring duo, about how Trademutt and TIACS came about, and just how to start a conversation with someone about mental health.
Take us back to the beginning, what inspired TradeMutt, and TIACS?
TradeMutt was unfortunately inspired by the suicide of a close friend of mine in 2015. At the time co-founder Edward Ross and I were working as carpenters in Brisbane. Several work sites and many conversations later, the concept of TradeMutt and bringing greater awareness of mental health for tradies was founded. Looking to go beyond raising the awareness of trade mental health and provide actual support for people, This Is A Conversation Starter (TIACS) Foundation was established. The name of the foundation sits proudly on the back of every TradeMutt shirt.
What did you want to achieve by creating the social enterprise and foundation?
We want to create change in a meaningful way, and help drive a much needed cultural shift in attitude among the blue collar workforce. We do not want to be another group raising awareness about poor mental health, we’re endeavouring to be solution focused. The shirts do an unbelievable job in raising awareness and starting conversations—they’re pretty hard to miss.
TIACS Foundation puts action beside the awareness, making free psychological help available to those that need it. The cost of seeing a psychologist in Australia isn’t cheap and you need to book in advance and take time out of a working day to make the appointment. Many tradies and blue-collar workers can’t afford the money or time—TIACS removes those hurdles to mental health support. Calling or texting 0488 846 988 will get you in touch with a psychologist without charge.
Why the high vis and work shirts in particular?
Visibility for one thing, but given the fact that Ed and I have a combined 15 years experience in trades and blue collar industry, it wouldn’t really make sense for us to make mouse pads. We reckon that if we can help get Australia’s blue collar workforce to change its tone, then we’ll go a long way to encouraging that shift among Australians everywhere.
The design of the shirts is way cooler than your average high vis shirt—what kind of reception have they had with tradies?
They’ve been received incredibly well, which just goes to show you how many people out there actually want to be a part of the solution to this epidemic. We get lots of stories from tradies on site who now get quite a kick out of drawing attention when they wear TradeMutt. It’s like they are almost daring someone to ask them about the shirt just so they can tell them what it’s about. It’s always a very disarming moment when two people find that deeper level of respect for one another when you can talk about a serious topic like mental health.
Do people reach out to you with stories of conversations their shirts have sparked? Are there any that have moved you?
Yes they do—and we love it. One thing that is very important to us is the human element and connections we’re creating. People reach out to us with some amazing and moving stories; we call them Humans of TradeMutt, a celebration of our community, shining a light on the incredible and relatable individuals who are leading by example and paving the way for others like them to feel supported to talk about the tough stuff.
However given the line of work we are in, we have had some incredibly tough and quite emotional conversations too. Standing in front of a father while he tells you about losing his only 18 year old son to suicide less than a year ago—well if that doesn’t bring you to your knees then not much will. You can never prepare for someone to bare their soul in front of you, but when that does happen, take a breath and keep your composure. It might be hard to hear it, but it’s even harder for that person to have lived through and then talk about.
Most people have no idea how to start a conversation about mental health—what are your tips?
There are a few really important things to consider if you are serious about opening up that conversation with someone. Firstly, just because you’re ready to talk, it doesn’t mean that the other person is, so don’t try to force it and don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t go the way you think. Secondly, you’re not there to fix the problem, so don’t approach the situation trying to offer solutions.
Third, you need to show vulnerability yourself. If you go in too heavy handed, you’ll have the opposite effect. Keep it as relaxed as possible, find common ground by opening up about some of your own struggles and meet that person half way instead of expecting them to come all the way over to you with their troubles. Other than that, just keep your cool, keep it calm, relaxed and don’t ever judge.
What are your own strategies for managing your mental health?
I mean, there are all those things that most people talk about like exercise, trying to put nourishing things in your body, good sleep, continual learning through reading and listening and of course taking time out to put your feet up and enjoy good music. However for me, the things that I hold most dear to me are deep human connections. Understanding who the people are around me that I love and trust the most who I consider my support network. Having a solid network of friends and family that I know I can talk to about anything keeps me grounded and feeling supported no matter what life throws my way. Solid and genuine human connection is the key.
You should also check out this queen’s crusade to end workplace bullying.
Image credit: TradeMutt