On November 15th, 2019, NWESI Project Administrator, Shauna, attended the CFMA Portland Suicide Prevention Summit at the Oregon Zoo. She returned with ideas on how to better address mental health concerns in our industry. Inspired by her thoughts, we asked her to contribute what she learned to our blog.
It was a meeting of around 40-50 upper-management executives from some of Portland’s most well-known construction companies. The focus was to address a recent hot topic in workplace safety: suicide prevention. Seeing that construction has the highest suicide rates in the industry1 and that the numbers have increased over the past couple of decades, its discussion is widely needed.
The first step to suicide prevention is recognizing risk factors.
These can include: “tough guy” culture, chronic pain, sleep problems, isolation, prevalent drug & alcohol abuse, high-pressure work environment, and lack of leadership training were discussed as important indicators.
Some of these risk factors have easy solutions, while others are more complicated and harder to address. How do we break down the barriers of the tough guy culture? We should be able to show vulnerability without the fear of judgement or retribution. One solution is for our leaders to practice their values—whether it’s having an open door to personal conversations, or knowing the details of how Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) work, leaders should make sure that all employees know they have support systems.
At the Suicide Prevention Summit, there were multiple men who cried while sharing personal stories of their own experiences with suicide. It was a very moving event and I wished that all laborers could see that same passion and empathy from their leaders. The majority of us are not counselors, but we can help steer those who need emotional support to the professionals who can help. Get to know the details of your company programs, try them yourself, and share your experience. Learn to recognize the warning signs and practice a new attitude of being open about it.
Mental health issues are not rare, are not a disability, and should not be kept a secret. Let’s focus on changing what we’ve normally swept under the rug. It’s important for us to feel connected and supported…that’s how companies thrive and succeed.