Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other

Creating workplaces where we all watch out for each other

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Construction worker suicide: New video talks about mental health, stigma

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Photo: Mechanical Contractors Association of America

Rockville, MD — Mental health is “just as important for your safety as that harness or anything else that you’re wearing,” Mechanical Contractors Association of America member Ricky Reams says in a new video.

MCAA’s video spotlights mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the construction industry, which has experienced elevated rates of suicide.

Experts say physical strain, deadline pressure and a macho culture may make it more difficult for workers to talk about mental health struggles.

“There’s fear of shame. We’re going to be judged,” Brandon Anderson, vice president of safety at AGC of Missouri and a survivor of previous suicide attempts, says in the video. “The guilt that, ‘I’m not strong enough to deal with that.’”

Sally Spencer-Thomas, a psychologist and international speaker on mental health awareness and suicide prevention, calls on the industry to reduce stigma around mental health.

“The thing that makes you really good at this job – tough-mindedness, stoicism, decisiveness, perseverance; you’ve got to have that to be able to do this work – is also the thing that makes you most vulnerable to suicide and overdose because you are least likely to reach out for support,” Spencer-Thomas said.

“What that culture tells you is to be self-reliant, to [bear through it], whatever the thing is. It’s stress. It’s pain. You just keep pushing. And that doesn’t work well for any kind of health issue. We have to change that culture.”

Anderson reminds construction professionals who suspect a worker is struggling to approach them with compassion.

Spencer-Thomas offers additional tips:

  • Start with expression of care: “I care about you. You matter to me.”
  • Tell them, “I’ve noticed …” – and then list specific behaviors or things that have changed, suggesting they don’t seem like themselves lately.
  • “Tell me what’s going on, tell me what’s happening for you.”
  • Listen with empathy and compassion.
  • If enough warning signs are present, pivot and ask directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

MCAA highlights resources including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number – 988.