Sean Aherne, keen advocate for mental health support at work

Sean Aherne: “Mental health support at work should be as important as personal protection equipment.”

People like Sean Aherne – a 43-year-old married father of two boys from Melbourne, and a strong advocate of strong mental health support at work – make I Am Here what it is today.

Sean works in the construction industry as Production Team Lead with InfraBuild Australia and is also an I Am Here Ambassador.

In his role as an Ambassador, Sean is happy with being called upon to signpost his fellow Team Members to the help and support they may need, if suffering from mental health and wellbeing challenges.

We recently spoke to Sean about his own journey, the lessons he learned along the way, and how he believes workplace culture is changing as more people open up and listen to others.

I Am Here: What impact has I Am Here had on you as a person?

Sean Aherne: “It’s been eye-opening from a few different aspects. I’ve reflected on my past experiences and now understand how mental health difficulties don’t discriminate. Anybody can suffer and many people have had, need or will need, mental health support.

“I now have more empathy and acceptance for others because who knows what is going on in their lives. I finally came to the realization that; ‘it’s ok not to feel ok; and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help.’ In the past, I just shut down and not said anything or asked for support..

“That has destroyed many friendships and relationships that I now hold deep regrets over. Instead I chose to drink, which only exacerbated the problem. I didn’t see what effect that was having on those around me and I didn’t recognise those who would have formed a support network, had I asked..

“I think mental health support and research needs more investment worldwide.”

I Am Here: What impact has I Am Here had within your workplace?

Sean Aherne: “It’s had a positive impact within my workplace, although mental health can still be seen as a taboo subject at times.

“I Am Here is slowly changing the conversation around people’s thoughts of mental health and wellbeing.

“I have seen, for the first time in my experience, groups having positive and open discussions about mental health and reflecting on past experiences, at work and in their private lives.”

I Am Here: What do you say to others – who may not be familiar with I Am Here?

Sean Aherne: “We talk about the fact that the bigger a support network we create, the lower the chances are of anybody falling between the gaps.

“I ask if they can think of anyone with financial problems, family issues, parenting issues, and ask if they would like to help them find support.”

I Am Here: There's a perception that the construction industry is a very “macho” environment, where men in particular don't talk about how they're feeling. Do you see any change in this?

Sean Aherne: “I’ve seen a change in the discussions men are having at work around mental health and wellbeing. There are open conversations and also a change in attitudes within those discussions.

“It is becoming acceptable to speak up and look at mental health in the same way as physical health.

“It is compulsory to wear personal protection equipment on sites to prevent physical injury so it should be compulsory to support mental health actively.”

I Am Here: Finally, Sean, how has I Am Here impacted your life as a father?

Sean Aherne: “I make sure my children know that they should not be embarrassed to ask for help if needed.

“I teach them about empathy and understanding; that everybody has their own personal challenges and I show them how easy it is to help somebody else.

“I have also joined a first-time fathers’ support group to share my experiences with others who have reached out for support. Trying to balance work, sleep, and a new baby definitely has its challenges. If I could help another father through even one night of a crisis, it would be great.”

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