Construction workers are statistically at a higher risk for mental health issues than virtually every other profession. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one third of all suicides in 2012 were workers in the construction and extraction occupational group.
Too often, the construction industry’s culture of safety is limited to the physical aspects and neglects the psychological aspects. According to a recent article in The New York Times, between 1999-2014, there was a 22% increase in mortality among white, middle-aged men with less than a college education; suicides, opioid overdoses, and alcohol abuse were listed as the causes of this increased mortality.
Why is the rate so high in the construction industry?
Many of the known contributing factors for suicide and many aspects of working in construction create a “perfect storm” of risk.
- “Tough guy” culture of fearlessness, stoicism, and recklessness
- High pressure environment of schedule, budget, and quality performance with
- Potential for failure and resulting shame and humiliation
- Exposure to physical strain or psychological trauma
- Prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse
- Reassignment and travel to remote projects creating separation from family and friends
- Seasonal employment leading to a fragmented community and isolation
- Chronic pain from years of hard, physical, and manual labor
- Industry with the associated highest incidence of prescription opioid use
- Sleep disruption due to construction work schedules and rotating shifts
- Lack of access to mental health care
- Low utilization of Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
- Stigma of mental illness
- Access to lethal means like pills and firearms
What is the construction industry doing to prevent suicide?
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force, Construction Financial Management Association and American Psychiatric Association Foundation have joined together to provide more resources and education to leaders in the industry and at construction companies, and start conversations in management and throughout the construction industry. Their efforts include programs to help staff learn to recognize and act on the warning signs, industry posters, and over 30 articles in industry-related journals and news sources.
Free Suicide Prevention Summit on April 25
Starting in April 2016, the CFMA chapters began presenting regional suicide prevention summits. One is scheduled in Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 25, 2017. To be held at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, the free, half-day summit will discuss suicide prevention in the construction industry by recognizing the signs, having resources available and removing the stigma association with mental illness.
Presenters include several construction industry and healthcare leaders as well as survivors of suicide:
- Allied Electric | employer survivor
- Jill Fontaine | Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
- Bob Swanson | parent survivor & National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota educator
- Bob VandePol, LMSW | Pine Rest Employee Assistance Program & Workplace Taskforce of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
- Cathy Wasner | Construction Financial Management Association & Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention Task Force
- Vonnie Woodrick | spouse survivor & founder of i understand
What are the warning signs?
Friends and family members can help spot and prevent suicide, too. Some of the signs to watch for are:
- Increased tardiness and absenteeism
- Decreased productivity
- Decreased self-confidence
- Isolation from peers
- Agitation and increased conflict among co-workers
- Increased feelings of being overwhelmed
- Decreased problem solving ability
- Legal and illicit substance abuse
- Near hits, incidents and injuries
If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, both you and they are not alone. There are others in our industry who can relate, and more importantly, others who can help. For urgent assistance, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) right away.
The information for this article was provided by the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention.