Foundation House is helping tradies come to terms with mental health and addiction.
Tommy sits in a room full of tradies and tells them all about how he used to drink methylated spirits with Coke. The mixer was to stop him throwing up blood; he’d keep a schooner of the concoction next to his bed at his parents’ house, where he lived at the time. Tommy was almost 40 then, and had been in and out of the construction industry for half his life.
“I worked in construction, and I was a functioning addict from when I started when I was 18,” he explains. “At the start it was always pot. Ecstasy pills. Campbelltown coke. And then after that drinking came into it because it’s just part of the culture.
“It’s construction: if you can’t drink you can’t be trusted and be part of it.”
Tommy is a resident at the Foundation House rehabilitation centre, located in Sydney’s inner west. The 28-day residential program has been working with people like him for the past 18 years. A not-for-profit charity, Foundation House doesn’t get any government funding, but is instead supported by the construction industry itself. The centre receives a number of its referrals directly from the worksite via the Building Trade Group (BTG), through which they get most of their clientele.
Sitting here on a Wednesday night, it’s hard not to think there’s something wrong with Australia’s construction industry culture. There are close to 80 men in this room: some of them alcoholics, some of them drug addicts, some of them suicide survivors—but nearly all of them tradesmen.
“It’s the pressures that people are put under,” says Daniel, a therapist at Foundation House, when I ask him why this might be the case. “We’re talking 10 to 12 hour days six days a week, and no downtime.”
Such unforgiving hours are nothing new, and in recent years there’s been some significant headway towards raising awareness around issues of mental health on the worksite. Foundation House is an important next step. They don’t just want to shine a light on the underbelly of the construction industry: they want to offer the workers a way out of the dark.