As someone new to the construction field, I was stunned by this information but assumed I was simply unaware of the rates due to my limited exposure. However, as I shared the information with others around me their surprise was palpable. It was in this moment that I knew we needed to be more cognizant of the mental health of our own employees and, with May being National Mental Health Awareness Month, right now seemed like an excellent opportunity to get started shining a light on this dark topic.
While mental health history is a key indicator for an increased risk of suicide, it is critical to look beyond to other factors which led to a question that kept repeating in my mind – why. Why are the rates for these industries so high? What are the unique factors in these industries that could be contributing to such high rates? Through further “Googling” I uncovered multiple articles that referred to the construction industry as a “perfect storm” due to the conglomeration of risk factors at play, including:
- Job failure – feeling humiliation or shame from job failure when main source of identity
- Entrapment – feel trapped into doing something they would not normally do but see no other way to meet their goals or feel trapped in the same job
- Community suicide deaths – construction sites like bridges or tall buildings can trigger suicidal thoughts or depression
- Nature of the work – combination of the seasonality of work and workforce/skill shortages resulting in overtime creating a “pressure cooker” atmosphere
- Sleep disruption - working long or abnormal hours can affect sleep, causing mental and physical exhaustion
Some behaviors may indicate that the individual is at immediate risk for suicide. If someone is exhibiting any of the following, you should immediately contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or a mental health professional.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself - “I just can’t take it anymore.”; “What’s the use?”
- Looking for ways to kill oneself - searching online or obtaining a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Any of the following items could be an indicator for someone who may be at serious risk for suicide or depression.
- Increased tardiness and absenteeism
- Decreased productivity and self-esteem
- Strained marriages and family conflict
- Financial strain
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
And always make sure to assist them in locating and contacting additional qualified resources as research indicates that those who seek treatment for depression are treated successfully 80% - 90% of the time. If you notice warning signs yourself or a coworker exhibiting any warning signs, reach out to a trusted coworker, your direct supervisor, or Human Resources and be aware of all of the additional resources available.
- MCL has added an EAP program to our benefits package (at no cost to the employee) which will go into effect in July. The EAP program offers the following support:
- Live-Answered, 24-hour, toll-free phone number
- Assessments and Short-term Counseling up to 3 sessions per person annually for eligible employees and dependent family members
- Unlimited access to online “Ask EAP” services
- Community Referrals for legal/financial assistance/support and consultation/dependent care/elder care
- Unlimited access to all on-demand webinars and health & wellbeing library
- Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention - www.preventconstructionsuicide.com
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Free, confidential, 24/7 emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
Tanna White is the Director of Training and Development for MCL Construction. She has a Masters in Organizational Communication from the Univesity of Northern Iowa.