The latest data shows that the construction industry has the second-highest suicide rate in the country—with the suicide rate among construction workers at four times the national average. And young adults—the ones most likely to work in construction—are most at risk for depression and other mental disorders. It’s also a male-dominated industry, one that prizes a macho culture. There’s a stigma associated with mental health challenges, so construction workers aren’t likely to reach out for help without being encouraged to do so.
The good news is, your employees will follow your lead. They won’t magically become more aware of mental health challenges and the importance of reaching out for help just because you say so. But you can take active steps to change the culture inside your organization.
Raising awareness of the growing suicide rate is a challenge. You don’t want to scare your employees, but empower them instead. Team building activities can provide an opportunity to bring your team together so they can begin to watch out for each other and support each other when times are rough.
Begin by sharing information about mental health in an authentic, meaningful way. This should not be a formal presentation at your annual training meeting. Instead, think small group formats or a break-out session. If you aren’t comfortable handling the topic yourself, work with a third party to create an appropriate training venue for your employees. You can even reach out to your insurance broker for resources.
When you’re building the program, be sure to include information on concrete behaviors and signs to look for, such as stress, observable symptoms of depression and suicide-warning behaviors. Approximately 70% of those who die by suicide first make direct or indirect statements that send some kind of signal. Your staff doesn’t need to be able to diagnose their co-workers, but they can identify a concern and reach out to the co-worker or HR for guidance.
Provide them with a list of risk factors and warning signs, which could include a family history of suicide or trauma, lingering issues from a serious physical illness, previous suicide attempts, financial or relationship pressures, lack of support networks and cultural stigmas about mental health. Other indicators of mental stress can be weight and appetite changes, chronic headaches, anxiety and indecision, loss of motivation, increased sensitivity, low self-esteem, increased smoking and drinking, withdrawal or aggression, reckless behaviors and difficulty concentrating.
Despite the financial and emotional strain, contractors must create a supportive, open environment for their employees. Those who struggle with mental health challenges do better when they feel they have a supportive “village” around them. If you can create that village at your organization, you and your employees will both benefit.
Finally, mental health requires the help of a professional—and fortunately, many employers already have a tool to assist with this issue. The employee assistance provider (EAP) is a service that offers short-term mental health support for employees and their families.
Through the EAP, employees can even receive referrals for longer-term support. The best part is that at most firms, it’s something you already pay for as part of your benefits package. Encourage your employees to enter the number for the EAP in their cell phone contacts. And make sure they know that help can be found there and throughout your entire company.