September may be suicide prevention month, but employers need to focus on workers’ mental health year-round. This is especially true in the construction industry. A 2018 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that males in the construction and extraction fields accounted for the most suicides of any other profession in both 2012 and 2015. While several factors seem to contribute to the heartbreaking prevalence of self-harm in this industry, employers, company owners and supervisors can implement a few practices to help spot the warning signs and ensure their workers get the proper help before it’s too late.
A glaring contributor to the prevalence of suicide in construction is the fact that the majority of workers in this industry are white, middle-aged males. This group has long seen the highest incidence of suicide among the general population. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38% of construction workers in the U.S. were white males between 45 and 64 years old in 2018. Meanwhile, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that white males between the ages of 45 and 64 accounted for the highest U.S. suicide rate of any demographic in 2017.
As anyone in the construction industry knows, there is also a common mindset that could contribute to this sad statistic. Individuals in manual labor professions often pride themselves on tackling risky projects, working under dangerous conditions and never complaining about hard work, fear or emotional problems. This is where responsible employers can help.
How to Spot the Warning Signs
While those considering suicide or self-harm often hide their feelings, it is important to keep a watchful eye out for tell-tale signals. Diligent observation and checking in with your employees can help you identify and address any potential issues plaguing them. Some of the most common suicide warning signs include:
- Frequent absences
- Declining work performance
- Decreased interest in job or communication
- Distinct changes in personality or demeanor
If an employee who is usually a punctual, diligent, talented worker suddenly starts calling out sick frequently or his/her performance begins to slip, it could be a clue something is wrong. Noticeable changes in demeanor or job interest can also signify a problem. Is your previous star employee suddenly arguing with colleagues or have you noticed the quality of their work declining? Check in with him/her and find out what’s going on. Yes, workers may just be dealing with general anxiety or minor personal issues, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
All company owners need to enact prevention methods aimed at monitoring, protecting and ensuring their employees’ mental health and safety. As shown by the statistics, this is particularly necessary in the construction business. A few of the most effective suicide prevention tactics for the workplace are surprisingly simple to employ – though the importance of comprehensive attention to this subject far outweighs any difficulty in new policy implementation.
1. Open and Frequent Communication
Communication is key when it comes to suicide prevention. Check in with your employees and get to know them. Ask them to share their concerns, input, thoughts and any problems they may be having at work or at home. Let them know you are specifically focused on suicide prevention and mental wellness among your workforce, and that there will never be any judgment for sharing their issues with you or another supervisor. Keep an open-door policy and focus on reducing the stigma surround mental illness. Acknowledging the risk is the first step to being able to address it.
2. Close Monitoring and Protection
If someone in your employ is showing the signs of suicidal ideation or declining mental health, you need to monitor them closely. Make sure they are never alone at work, especially around dangerous equipment. Train employees and supervisors to recognize coworkers in distress and respond appropriately.
3. Get Them Help
If you believe an employee or colleague may be thinking about suicide, it is important to get them help. This is never a comfortable subject to bring up, but it is also too dangerous to ignore. Encourage them to seek professional mental health assistance.
4. Provide Resources
Provide all workers with adequate resources related to mental health and suicide prevention. This includes ensuring mental health services are included as a benefit in health plans and providing services that include counseling and grief counseling. Additionally, offer access to literature on the subject, links to websites and numbers for suicide prevention hotlines. Sharing stories of hope and healing can also help lift someone up who is feeling depressed and dejected. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your workplace wellness programs.
A simple online search will uncover a myriad of suicide prevention resources. The Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention exists specifically to help employers and workers in this industry. The 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
This month and every month, protect yourself and your workers from the heart-wrenching and far-reaching impacts of depression and suicide.