Safety in the construction industry is crucial, as everyday employees risk their lives performing dangerous work while dealing with the added stresses of extreme weather and strict deadlines. Despite the stereotypical “tough guy” mentality of these workers, opioid dependency and suicide plague the industry. Last year, 53.3 out of every 100,000 construction workers died from suicide. That is compared to a rate of 12.93 out of every 100,000 people in the US overall.
While the issues of suicide and addiction tend to be pushed aside by workers and employers alike, that only compounds matters. More than 80% of construction workers report feeling stressed at work, which can often lead to issues with alcohol and substance abuse. Ultimately, if these problems are not treated, they can lead to mental health issues and suicide.
How is EDA helping?
At EDA, we understand the importance of being in your top physical and mental shape when working on jobs. In addition to placing an emphasis on emotional intelligence, we promote a culture of safety and openness where employees are encouraged to ask for help when they need it.
We also understand the importance of helping employees who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. The EDA PACT program was created to encourage team members to self-identify their substance abuse issues, while helping them seek treatment and reenter the workplace when they are ready. One of the key problems for people struggling with substance abuse is that they fear losing their job if they identify their issues; the PACT Program guarantees that individuals can return to work once they are in recovery.
Despite these efforts, EDA has not escaped the tragedy of suicide that has become all too common in this industry. In 2018, EDA’s Kenny Erdman was lost too soon. This tragedy is regularly commemorated by a group entitled “Kenny’s Crusaders” who honor his memory and support efforts to raise awareness for suicide and mental health.
How You Can Help
Suicide awareness starts with everyone, because together we can all make a difference. This year, Construction Suicide Prevention Week has decided to focus on one issue for each day of the week.
Awareness includes both understanding your own mental health and being aware of how others are feeling. If you know you are struggling, make sure to practice self-care and seek help if you need it. Pushing mental health issues to the side, can only cause larger issues down the road. In addition, it is important to support others who may be suffering with mental health issues. Sometimes just asking a colleague how they are doing can make a difference in their day. If you are a leader in your company, normalize discussions about mental health and make conversations about suicide and suicide awareness part of your company’s safety program. Growing awareness will help others recognize triggers when a colleague is struggling.
Reduce the Stigma
The construction industry is notorious for the stoic, “tough guy” image that its workers often portray. The physical nature of the work, in addition to the travel, risk-taking, and culture of substance abuse all contribute to the high rates of suicide industry-wide. Mental health should be considered part of the conversation when it comes to workplace safety, because it can directly affect safety on jobsites and employee well-being. Reducing the stigma when it comes to issues that contribute to suicide is a great way to start making a difference.
Recognize the Warning Signs
Knowing when somebody is struggling can be difficult, but there are some warning signs that you should be mindful of. Some general warning signs that somebody may be struggling with mental health issues include anxiety or agitation, feeling like a burden, reckless behavior, depression, and increased drug or alcohol use. While these signs may not immediately be alarming, they can be a sign of larger issues if left untreated. Some other warning signs like feeling desperate, tying up loose ends, saying goodbye, talking about self-harm, or seeking access to things like guns and prescriptions should be responded to immediately. Recognizing these warning sides are important and can save a life. If any of these signs are present, you should bring it to the attention of a supervisor and start a conversation with your coworker about your concerns. You can always refer people to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or the Crisis Text Line. If you believe that an individual is in imminent danger or has already harmed themself, you should call 911 right away.
Starting the Conversation
It is tough to start a conversation about mental health and suicide, but it may be the most important thing that you do. The Associated General Contractors of America gives a comprehensive guide to help you through the conversation, but one of the most important things to remember is that you are not putting the idea of suicide into somebody’s head. Instead, you are opening a door for them to talk about an issue that they have likely felt uncomfortable bringing up. Giving them an opportunity to talk about their struggles can be a huge relief and is often one of the most critical steps in getting them the help they need.
Keep the Conversation Going
The conversation around suicide should be ongoing. It is integral that employees know their mental health is important and valued. Be sure to regularly share resources and have the proper support groups in place to help these individuals. For those struggling, it is important to know that you are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and is a great resource for those experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings.