Jason Egan has spent more than three decades working across the quarrying sector. He tells Quarry about his mental health journey within the industry in hopes of helping others.
When Jason Egan first stepped foot in Readymix Dubbo in 1991, he’d never been inside a quarry, let alone knew much about what they entailed.
However, those first steps in Dubbo started a career within Australia’s quarrying sector, taking him from Dubbo to Darwin to Hervey Bay and across Queensland.
Egan carved out a successful career in concrete and quarrying operations as he worked for “great companies in some great locations” before working in quarry equipment sales. In his own words, behind the scenes of his extensive career, he was battling the “black dog.”
After a year-long stint as an exchange student in Thailand, Egan was at a loss for what to do in 1990. The South Australian travelled to Dubbo to spend time with his father, where he worked in the shearing industry and played footy on weekends. The club’s captain-coach needed a new employee at the local quarry, and Egan fitted the bill perfectly, except for a tiny matter.
“I had no idea what a quarry was,” Jason Egan said.
“But I took them up on it anyway, started on a shovel and in a few months, they’d trained me up on the dump trucks and loaders.”
Egan made an impression because he was the quarry supervisor at Readymix Albion Park five years later, which started his career in operations and quarry management.
“It was a bit different as the boy from the bush, and it was a fairly unionised area. It was a tough challenge but a pretty good experience for me.”
Two years later, Egan was on the road again, headed for Darwin to be the quarry manager for Readymix. But, in the Northern Territory’s capital, he found his first experience with the “black dog”.
The then 26-year-old was far from home and found himself regularly upset, and almost everything had lost its joy.
“I felt useless; I felt at work that I wasn’t performing, and when you’re 26 years old, you should be bullet-proof; you think you’re tough and rough,” he said.
“But this really strange thing was happening to me, and I didn’t understand it.”
Away from work, he was using alcohol to self-medicate the pain he was feeling and the dark thoughts that clouded his mind.
Egan sunk to a dark place in Darwin, and as he acknowledged, he started to plan to take his own life, but each time he stopped.
“I wanted to take my own life without hurting my family,” he said.
“But thankfully, I was able to get some help.”
Egan’s manager in Darwin noticed his employee was not his usual self and took steps to reach out and offer help via the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
“To this day he remains one of my close friends and set up the help through the EAP, which I think every company should have,” Egan said.
“I felt weak, and like a loser for going and seeing a counsellor and doctor, but through the program and the medication, I was able to feel better.”
After leaving Darwin, Egan went across the country, working in several quarry, area and operations manager roles including in the ready-mixed concrete sector.
While on the outside, it appeared Egan was paving a successful career in the construction materials space across some of Australia’s biggest companies, internally, he was struggling.
By 2018, Egan had been in an on-and-off battle with the “black dog” for two decades.
He admits he was continuing to use alcohol to cope as the suicide of his cousin and friend within a few months of each other left him feeling “angry, frustrated and depressed”.
As he prepared to leave the industry to accommodate the 50 per cent care of his daughters, an unexpected opportunity with Screenmasters Australia left Jason “forever grateful”.
The long-time operations manager took on a sales role, and the left-field change gave him the balance on the worksite and at home he had been looking for. Recently, Egan joined Astec Australia to head up sales on the Australia’s east coast for its material solutions business.
“I’d had a crack at a lot of things within the industry, and sometimes the black dog almost got me, but I had tools and strategies to manage it,” he said.
This journey gave Egan an insight into the struggles many working men face, and he wanted to help.
Egan remembers the first time he worked with Beyond Blue, selling charity raffle tickets in Suncorp Stadium. Afterwards, Egan was invited to share his mental health journey in the hope of helping others like him. Over the past seven years Jason has presented to community groups, workplaces, conferences and correctional facilities.
Last year, he spoke at the IQA’s Victorian branch meeting.
It was a series of firsts for Egan as he told his story in front of industry peers and his wife, who was also listening for the first time.
“Presenting in front of people who know you personally requires a huge level of vulnerability, and you must be honest; you have to be vulnerable; otherwise, the message doesn’t get across.”
“With my sales work I’ve been to close to 200 sites, and unfortunately, I continue to see the effects of people making choices that aren’t the best for their physical or mental health.I tend to see people looking after the interests of businesses and other people rather than themselves which sounds selfish, but it is actually the best possible choice an individual can make.
“It’d be great to see more of our quarrying people make their own health and wellbeing a priority in their lives.”
Egan has been working with quarry professionals to help them understand that their health away from the workplace can make them better operators within it.
“One of the best tools I recommend to people when they reach out is to undertake a Beyond Blue K10 self-assessment and from there, they start their journey,” he said.
In his own experience, Egan has found that focusing on physical and mental fitness has enabled him to cope better with life’s pressures.
Egan works out regularly with a group called Unbreakable Man on the Gold Coast.
“It’s changed me for the better, and it has identified some of the root causes of why I struggled for so many years,” Egan said.
“Not only did I lose a lot of weight and become fitter, but they’re a tremendous bunch of guys; because of this group, I’ve introduced gratitude into my life.
“It’s shifted my focus to what I have and am grateful for. It has been incredibly empowering and helped develop resilience.”
Beyond Blue’s research shows one in eight men will experience depression, and one in five men will experience anxiety on average.
Egan said it was important that men give themselves outlets and support.
“You need those things when life goes pear-shaped, which is a guarantee: no one’s life will work out perfectly. I always thought it would be, but when I couldn’t handle it, the black dog would appear,” he said.
“Poor mental health does not discriminate. It impacts high achievers and CEO’s, managers and workers alike. Together though, we can make a difference. As with my presentations, if this story can help just one person then its well worth the effort.” •
If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
For more information on Beyond Blue, see beyondblue.org.au.