Mental Health Awareness Month: Addressing the Epidemic of Suicide in Construction
Let’s talk about a difficult topic. Let’s talk about a topic that has likely affected the lives of nearly every person in this room in one way or another. The topic of suicide is not an easy topic to approach nor is it a comfortable discussion. As we enter into Mental Health Awareness Month, it is essential that we put aside the negative stigma associated with mental health and approach this difficult topic head-on. The professionals here at GovGig are dedicated to mental health awareness and we truly understand the challenges that we are facing as a society in dealing with mental health crisis.
Suicide in construction has become an epidemic. According to a recent article published by Professional Safety titled: Suicide in Construction, workers in construction trades are substantially more likely to succumb to suicide than those in other trades with rates as high as 72 per 100,000. A deeper dive into this challenge still struggles to illustrate the primary causal factors behind this substantial challenge although a number of risk factors have been identified which may provide some insight as to why suicide rates in construction are so much higher than its industry counterparts. The risk factors are many including:
· The cyclical nature of construction
· Being in a culture where taking risks is often rewarded
· Having fragmented relationships due to the transitory nature of construction
· Often having ready access to lethal means such as heavy equipment, work at heights or other dangerous environments
It is essential that we as construction industry employers become better aware of the signs and symptoms associated with mental health crises and understand immediate steps that we can take to intervene when necessary. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common signs that someone may be in mental duress may include:
· Personal isolation
· Increased anxiety
· Feeling like a burden
· Increased substance abuse
· Seeking out lethal means
· Increased anger or rage
· Talking about, or posting on social media about them wanting to die.
If you, or someone that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, it is imperative that intervention is taken. The following steps may be the difference between someone acting out on their feelings, or them taking steps toward recovery and healing.
1. Listening- Perhaps the most effective tool that we have in our arsenal in combatting this epidemic is as simple as providing a listening ear. Listen to their concerns. Be empathetic and put aside the judgment. When a person is experiencing a mental health crisis, it can be extremely difficult to think rationally and the person may feel that there is only one way out of their state of anxiety or depression. Taking the time to listen to them will allow them to vocalize their concerns and relieve their stress. At the very least, it will allow them to realize that others care.
2. Asking direct questions relating to suicide is necessary. Ask questions that will allow them to vocalize their thoughts and talk through their challenges. They need to know that they are not alone and that they have an ally in their fight.
3. Keep them safe- If someone tells you that they are ready to commit suicide, take them seriously. If possible, stay with them and remove lethal means if present. Call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. This 24/7, free and confidential lifeline will immediately put you in touch with a trained professional who can provide you with immediate resources, counseling, or other assistance to help in this time of need.
4. Help them connect- Once you have started the initial conversation, assist them in connecting with a professional that can help. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Construction Working Minds, and SAMHSA are several of the many professional resources available for those who are experiencing a mental health crisis.
5. Stay connected- Stay connected by following up with the person at risk. At times the most valuable resource that can be available is an available and willing friend.
We as employers have the ability to make a difference. Educate your workforce. Be aware of the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of a mental health crisis, and most importantly, take immediate steps when necessary. Be fearless, confident and most of all, proactive. Together we can and will win as we face mental crisis head-on and provide the resources and support necessary to encourage recovery and healing.
Cory J. Grimmer, CSP, CHST