Suicide is never a comfortable topic to talk about, but in the construction industry, it may be one of the most important conversations people in the industry can have.
In its first ever suicide risk assessment by industry last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported construction is the No. 1 industry for the number of suicides and the No. 2 industry for suicide rates.
According to “A construction industry blueprint: Suicide prevention in the workplace,” the construction industry has several obvious — and terrifying — risk factors for suicide, including access to lethal means, a capacity for fearlessness, exposure to life-threatening accidents or psychological trauma, and isolation because of the transient nature of the industry.
Because of these staggering statistics, the CFMA established the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The goal of the alliance is to provide and distribute information and resources for suicide prevention and mental health promotion in construction. Since October is Mental Health Awareness Month, the CIASP is encouraging people in the industry to be proactive with their mental health.
In honor of National Depression Screening Day, Oct. 5, the CIASP sent out an e-mail with a link to a free mental health screening, which will be available through November. A collaboration between the CIASP and Screening for Mental Health, the construction industry screening portal is an anonymous and confidential program that provides a questionnaire with immediate results, recommendations and key resources.
Experts: Mental health is as important as physical health
In an already dangerous job, construction workers are put through hours and hours of safety training before they put on an orange for the first time. Safety training then continues throughout their careers.
With the numbers that came out from the CDC last year, the construction industry is realizing it needs to focus on mental health and safety as well. Cal Beyer, the Risk Management Director for Lakeside Industries in Issaquah, Washington, has helped spearhead the efforts of the CIASP by teaming with Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation. The pair have been writing articles and giving presentations to the industry about suicide prevention since the CDC report came out.
“Although our industry has made great strides in promoting safety, it has not focused on mental health [and doing so] will improve safety and productivity,” John Hickey, the executive director of the Asphalt Pavement Association of Oregon, said in Beyer’s AsphaltPro article, “Construction Safety’s Next Frontier: Suicide Prevention.” “We need to do more.”
According to the article, Hickey’s eyes were opened after attending a regional suicide prevention summit CFMA sponsored last November. After learning of the devastating suicide numbers in the industry, Hickey said Oregon’s asphalt pavement industry will start dedicating time to mental health in their training for new crew members and superintendents.
While some construction workers may feel awkward or annoyed when approached about mental health, one company closer to home has found an outreach that may appeal to a construction worker’s higher calling.
Barnhill Contracting Company in Rocky Mount, N.C., has been working with Corporate Chaplains of America for more than a year. Jimmie Hughes, Barnhill’s vice president of human resources and safety, said their work with the CCA has enhanced the company’s employee assistance program and would enhance any suicide prevention program.
“Employees have embraced the chaplains’ presence in the workplace, hospital room and the funeral home,” Hughes said in the same AsphaltPro article. “A chaplain is always there to ask ‘how can I help you today?’ This is especially helpful for those employees that do not have family or friends to lean on. They now have a chaplain to call on when in need and they are always available 24/7.”
Suicide warning signs, prevention and protective steps
While the construction industry is starting to implement suicide prevention plans in the workplace, which will help in the long-run, employees and employers may need more immediate help. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center offers the following advice:
For someone who is in immediate risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or a mental health professional. A person who is in an immediate risk of suicide may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself, which may be expressed as “I just can’t take it anymore” or “What’s the use?”
- Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
- Talking about having no reason to live or feeling hopeless
Other behaviors that may indicate a serious risk of suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, and/or is related to a painful event, loss or change include:
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated, behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
If you are worried that someone might be suicidal, WorkingMinds.org recommends the following as a guideline as what to say:
- “I’ve noticed (list specific behaviors), and I am concerned.”
- “Given what you’ve been going through, it would be understandable if you were thinking about suicide. I’m wondering if this is true for you.”
- “Tell me more about your thoughts of suicide and your distress,” and then listen
- “Thank you for trusting me. I am on your team; you are not alone. I have some ideas that might help.’
- Suggest resources:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK
- Employee Assistance Program
- Other local mental health resources
The SPRC also encourages the following formal and informal protective actions against suicide:
- Foster a culture that promotes the importance of safety
- Place an emphasis on teamwork
- Foster a culture of employee engagement and connectedness, providing a sense of “brotherhood”
- Foster a culture of wellness that values mental health
- Provide access to insurance and mental health care, such as an employee assistance program
- Encourage buddy systems, or informational support systems
- Provide suicide prevention training to leadership and supervisors
These methods are so important because connectedness is crucial to people who might consider suicide, according to the SPRC. By reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship can save a life.
For more information about the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention, visit www.preventconstructionsuicide.com.