Suicide and Mental Health Wellness in Construction Are Industry Priorities

brain puzzle

September marks Suicide Prevention Month, which is particularly important in the construction industry. The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) is a taskforce created by the Construction Management Financial Association (CFMA) in 2016 in response to a statistic released in a CDC study ranking construction as the #1 industry for deaths by suicide.Suicide is a serious issue, particularly around the holidays. As much as 25% of the U.S. population experience mental health issues and as many as two thirds (16%) don’t seek treatment. Employers and coworkers may be able to provide support to workers experiencing mental health issues if they understand how to recognize warning signs, and how they can aid helping a coworker/friend get help.

Many companies don’t realize that when workers face problems involving mental health, they can increase the companies’ risk of accidents and losses. Management and safety professionals also need to know that workers’ mental health issues increase worker absenteeism, presenteeism, and loss productivity – all of which affect the economic strength of the company.

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According to the latest information from CFMA, in 2020, there were 45,799 recorded suicides, up from 42,773 in 2014, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). There is an estimated 30% increase of suicides since 1999. For every person who dies by suicide, an estimated 316 people seriously consider suicide. There was a 22% increase in suicide among white middle-aged men with less than a college education; suicides, opioid overdoses, and alcohol abuse were listed as the cause of this increased mortality. The construction industry has the highest number of suicides and the highest suicide rate of any industry.

Although most construction related suicides do not happen on construction sites, I’m sure do occur. When a fellow worker commits suicide on or off the job, many people within the company are affected. Historically, the construction industry has spent a lot of time and money to provide workers with a safe place to work, including efforts to protect workers from exposure to chemicals and other health hazards such as asbestos and silica dust. However, we often overlook or don’t recognize the psychological aspects of working in construction.

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Many job factors can have a negative effect on a person’s mental health: job security, odd hours, low pay, job stress, bullying, or separation from family and friends when jobs are not local. Additionally, events outside of work, such as divorce, family illness, death of a loved one, or PTSD, can take a significant mental and emotional toll. One or more of these issues can be overwhelming, leaving a person feeling like they have no place to turn.

Recognize when a Worker is Having a Difficult Time

CFMA has identified these common warning signs as indicators of possible mental health problems:

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  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time,
  • Increased tardiness and absenteeism,
  • Talking about feeling trapped or wanting to die,
  • Decreased productivity,
  • Increased conflict among co-workers,
  • Extreme mood swings,
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs,
  • Decreased self-confidence,
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless,
  • Sleeping too much or too little,
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless,
  • Near hits, incidents, and injuries,
  • Withdrawing from family and friends,
  • Talking about being a burden to others,
  • Decreased problem-solving ability.

Preventing Construction Worker Suicide

  • Educate management and employees about mental health problems and what they can do if they feel depressed or suicidal, or recognize
  • that a coworker/friend may need help.
  • Establish an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and make sure all understand that contacting the EAP is confidential.
  • Make information about additional resources and support groups available to all employees, such as the Veterans Administration Suicide Hotline or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Work to destigmatize mental health issues in your company’s culture.
  • Create a post-suicide crisis response plan to help employees deal with the death of a coworker.

More detailed information can be found on the CFMA website, the CIASP website, and the OSHA Suicide Prevention Site:

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Zak Jordan is the staff editor at National Utility Contractors Association Tags: