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Preventing Suicide in the Construction Industry

July 20, 2020

Cecilia De La Rosa

Cecilia De La Rosa

The construction industry is a “tough guy” job and men, in general, don’t like the stigma that is attached to the mental health industry. Perhaps that’s why the men who work in construction are some of the most likely to succumb to suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), of all the industries construction has the second-highest rate of suicide at 53.3 per 100,000 workers. Until something happens to an employee, co-worker, or friend, it’s easier for most men not to talk about the issues they are struggling with. However, there are many factors that go into the high suicide rate in the construction industry. They may include:

  • Job site isolation
  • Lack of steady employment
  • Low or inconsistent pay
  • Sleep disruption
  • Chronic pain
  • Travel that separates workers from their family and friends
  • Intense pressure to do the job right and finish on-time
  • Poor working conditions
  • Depression and loneliness

One of the biggest challenges for men to overcome is the stigma associated with the mental health industry. As mentioned, construction is for “real men” who do “real work.” Mental health issues that go along with the challenges of getting the work done often is avoided. Some men shame themselves for experiencing anxiety, stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It contradicts the belief that men should not be affected or controlled by their emotions. Substance abuse also plays a significant role. Many men begin drinking alcohol or doing drugs to medicate the physical pain they experience from their work. Some of the most abused drugs include prescription pain killers like OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. More than 15% of construction workers have abused alcohol and drugs. Struggling with one’s emotions is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s not a taboo. It’s important that workers have someone they can talk with who understands their day-to-day lives. Fellow contractors, supervisors, workers, and safety professionals must remember that everyone is a human being who is challenged with their own issues and remove the stigma from the workplace. When someone expresses concern they are struggling with a difficult situation, there are three things anyone can do to ensure a positive result:

  1. Be a good listener. Many times, someone who is hurting just needs to know that someone can identify with them and that they are cared about.
  2. Ask them direct questions. If you suspect someone is struggling with suicide, ask them. Let them know someone is there for them and agree to discreetly help them find a professional who can help them.
  3. Direct them to the right source. Organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    , Construction Working Minds, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provide tools and treatment resources for those in need of assistance.

80% to 90% of those who seek out help are successfully treated through therapy and medical care. Being aware of depression and suicide, employers, workers, and safety professionals can help their co-workers reduce suicide in the construction industry. Being a “tough guy” has many pluses. However, like anything else it also has negatives. By helping those in the construction industry come to grips with how they are feeling, lives can be saved.

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