Masters of Suicidology graduate wins at Suicide Prevention Awards

Jorgen Gullestrup

Reducing the high rate of suicide within the construction industry has been the successful outcome for Griffith Masters of Suicidology graduate Jorgen Gullestrup.

Named this week as the 2018 Winner of the14th Annual LiFE Award recognising excellence in suicide prevention by Suicide Prevention Australia, Mr Gullestrup says he is ‘delighted and very humbled’ by the award.

“I am very humbled to be recognised for my work but I would like to emphasise that suicide prevention is not just something done by one or two people, but a collective exercise involving many people and which relies on many of the correct conditions being in place.”

MATES in Construction

It was ten years ago that Mr Gullestrup, a graduate of Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), developed the MATES in Construction program with the help of the Building Employees Redundancy Trust.

The program’s vision is to be Australia’s leading industry suicide prevention organisation focusing on raising awareness, building capacity, providing help and research.

Within the first five years of operation, an 8% reduction in Queensland construction industry suicide rates was achieved. Jorgen has presided over the expansion of the program from Queensland which is now reaching over 138,000 workers across four Australian States.

Starting his career in the construction industry, Jorgen saw first-hand the impact of suicide on the workers, their families and friends. Following the 2006 AISRAP investigation into suicide in the Queensland Commercial Building and Construction industry, Jorgen (who, at the time was State Secretary of the Plumbers Union) decided it was time to take action to save the lives of construction workers.

“Suicide and what can lead up to it is a very lonely and dark place for an individual to experience,” says Mr Gullestrup, who had his own personal experience of mental illness and suicide attempts during his early life.

“My employer at the time was very understanding of me and really supported me to get through my plumbing apprenticeship. That experience has always lived with me, so when I saw several mates within the industry take their own lives, I knew more had to be done.”

Through his involvement with AISRAP, Mr Gullestrup made the decision to study for the Graduate Certificate in Suicide Prevention which then later led into undertaking the Masters of Suicidology in 2014.

“I loved studying on both of these programs with AISRAP, which was a great experience after spending my whole working life on manual work.

“The academic work really gave me the background knowledge and confidence to put my arguments forward. Now I can be robust in what I believe in.”

“It’s not too difficult to identify the core leadership capabilities of Jorgen’s that have resulted in this great and deserved success,” says AISRAP senior lecturer Jacinta Hawgood.
“Jorgen is one very authentic, driven and intelligent person who has equality and fairness at his core, while fiercely protecting people’s right to live a life ‘worth living’. His contribution to saving lives and changing the building construction culture to one of care and compassion should be a model for many more industries.”