Suicide is a complex issue with many causes, and it has an extensive impact; but suicides are preventable. Unfortunately, our industry continues to have more suicides than any other industry and one of the highest rates of suicide. The rate of suicide in our industry is nearly four times that of the general population. Males still account for nearly 80 percent of all suicide deaths, and nearly 1.4 million Americans make a suicide attempt each year.
Early in my career, job site fatalities and injuries were common. Thankfully, the construction industry concluded this was not acceptable; we addressed the problem through extensive safety training, implementation of better procedures (such as hazard analysis), and the purchase and use of personal protective equipment.
The results of these efforts have been a significant reduction in job site fatalities and injuries, and in my opinion, a more productive workforce. These results were made possible through in-depth analysis of the causes of accidents and the implementation of preventative measures. I believe our industry can come together to reduce and prevent suicide deaths, just as we did years ago with job site injuries and fatalities. For us to address suicide in the construction industry, we need to understand the causes, and what makes those in our industry more susceptible.
What are some of the leading causes of suicide in the general population?
- Untreated and inadequate treatment of mental illnesses
- Public shame and stigma
- Lack of resources and information
- Myths about suicide
How does the construction industry’s culture contribute to suicide deaths?
- “Tough guy” culture
- Family separation and isolation with travel
- Sleep disruption with overtime and shift work
- Chronic pain from years of repetitive physical activity
- Financial stress due to seasonal layoffs and project layoffs
- Access to lethal means
You work in a tough industry with difficult schedules, equipment and material shortages, lack of skilled labor, and challenging work environments; and yet you continue to be successful. Why is that? There are a lot of reasons but having skilled and dedicated employees is a critical component. When employees are burdened with mental health issues, substance use issues, financial issues, etc., their level of productivity, quality of work, and safety is diminished. This isn’t just an issue for your company, or a management labor issue; it’s an industry issue. And it affects both your employees in the field and in the office. If we are going to do something about suicide in the construction industry, we need to change the culture.
How do we change the prevailing culture?
- Encourage opportunities to safely and openly discuss these issues by ending the silence.
- Make it okay to ask for help.
- Include the discussion of mental health, substance use and suicide prevention in toolbox talks and regular safety training.
- Have resources readily available to help employees needing assistance, such as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and your local crisis center.
- Provide training regarding the warning signs of suicide, and what to do when someone is in a mental crisis and contemplating suicide.
- Respond to and support employees with mental illnesses in the same way as physical illnesses.
What should we do if we or someone is having a crisis?
- U.S. – contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or text 741741.
- Canada – contact the Canadian Prevention Service at (833) 456-4566 or text the Crisis Text Line at 686868.
- Both the U.S. and Canadian lines are staffed 24 hours per day by trained professionals.
- If you must call 911, ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).