What construction can learn from mental health in rugby

10 January 2019 | By John Warne

Site workers are more likely to die from suicide than falls from height. John Warne, head of divisional marketing at RMD Kwikform, on how construction can learn from a rugby club mental health initiative.

John Warne

Until recently I was only vaguely aware of mental health and the problem of suicide until a friend took his own life and the statistics became very real.

James was 40 when he died. I had played rugby with him for over 30 years. We knew he had a complicated life but we all do, and it was very easy when he tried to open up occasionally to say “don’t be so soft” or “don’t worry – it’ll get better soon”.

News of James’s death was hard for all of us to take and at the rugby club we wanted to do something positive in his memory. So we started working with a charity called It Takes Balls to Talk, working with sports clubs to break down the stigma around mental health.

We train members of the team at the rugby club to be listening mates, to support and to talk about things that men traditionally aren’t very good at talking about.

Since James’s death I’ve become much more aware of the issues around suicide and particularly about suicide in construction workers. Perhaps a site is similar to a rugby club changing room – with the bravado and banter and the inability of men to talk to other men about the problems they’re facing. These are things we need to start breaking down.

The Samaritans say that site workers are more than six times likely to die from suicide than from falling at height. That’s an awful statistic. And something as an industry we need to change.

That’s why for me having balls to talk is a really important topic and one as men we need to challenge head on. I believe by breaking down the stigma of mental health, by showing that men can listen and talk about their emotional side, we will start to make a positive impact.


Main image: Cosmin Iftode/

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