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"Sometimes you have someone that’s on your side, whether you’re a hundred percent in the right or a hundred in the wrong,” says Derick Adkins, moments after holding his late grandfather’s mining helmet. “He was that for me.”

Losing his grandfather sank Adkins into the darkest period of his life. “After that, I didn’t really care much about anything or anybody,” he remembers. He turned to booze, struggled to sleep and found himself unable to “care if the sun came up.”

Last summer, Adkins—who has since recovered from that difficult time—became the first employee of Kwest, a civil and environmental construction company headquartered in Perrysburg, Ohio, to share his mental-health struggle with the wider world. His experience hit the internet as the first video in Kwest’s new “Under the Hard Hat” series. In just two weeks, it racked up more than 8,000 views and reached more than 17,000 people on LinkedIn alone, according to Katie Coulson, Kwest’s director of human resources.

“That wasn’t just the construction industry,” she notes. “It was anything from executive-level people to salespeople in different industries to your forepersons, your operators, laborers, electrical—all kinds of different craftsmen. The response has been so overwhelming.” {Editor's Note: For more on mental health, see the Sept/Oct 2022 article, "We Need to Talk," or the Jan/Feb 2023 article, "Learning to Fly.")


It was exactly what Coulson hoped for when she and Kwest’s external marketing team, Dancor Solutions, came up with the idea for an industry-focused mental-health awareness campaign in early 2021. “Construction has one of the highest rates of any industry when it comes to suicide,” Coulson says, but mental health isn’t something workers openly discuss. “When these guys are out there with their hard hats on, doing the work, they’re expected to have a certain tough mentality.”

But, as the pandemic hit and then continued into 2021, Coulson kept hearing from Kwest team members who needed help. “I was constantly giving out employee resources—suicide hotline numbers, information on our employee assistance program, helping people locate therapists they could talk to,” she says. With about 30% of Kwest employees identifying as military veterans—another population at increased risk for suicide—Coulson worried even more about the depression and anxiety that team members were describing to her.

“The question became, what are we at Kwest going to do about this?” Coulson says. “It’s just as much our responsibility as it is anybody else’s.”


With both a clear problem and a potential solution at hand, Coulson and Dancor got to work on the specifics. They settled on a video-based social-media campaign that would highlight various Kwest employees’ journeys to mental wellness, while also laying out the challenges they’d faced along the way. “I think that being able to see the person underneath that hard hat and the emotion that they show when they’re sharing their story,” Coulson says, “is more impactful than any article, any newsletter bulletin or any statement released by any official of any industry.”

To start, Coulson created a submission form that went out to Kwest’s team of roughly 300 people. Eleven responses came in—more than she’d expected. From there, she spoke with each respondent individually. Even if she knew she wouldn’t use an employee’s story in a video, she still wanted them to feel heard and validated, and to recognize the courage it took them to write in. And if they were still in the midst of their struggle, she wanted to offer support and resources.

After working with Dancor to identify the highest-impact stories, a team of five—including Coulson and Dancor’s video contractor, Joey Viola of Spark Storytellers—carried on with production planning, filming and editing the new series. After Adkins’ debut in August, the second “Under the Hard Hat" video came out on World Mental Health Day in October. At press time, Kwest was planning for another installment during the holiday season. Coulson says there will be seven videos in total, spread well into 2023.


Kwest’s new video series falls under its broader Total Human Health program—an initiative that Associated Builders and Contractors also introduced last year. “At Kwest Group, our Total Human Health program focuses on the complete wellness of our team members,” Coulson says. “Not just physical, but also mind and spirit, which includes mental and emotional health.” The company already has a monthly newsletter dedicated to wellness topics, along with workplace banners and an employee assistance program, which it plans to expand in 2023. But Coulson says “Under the Hard Hat” stands apart from anything Kwest has offered so far.

“We want to spread awareness in the construction industry and beyond to dissolve the stigma around mental health,” Coulson says. “If you can save even one life by sharing a story like this, the campaign is worth it.” 


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