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Everyone has times in their lives where things seem overwhelming. Seeking help is hard. For some, there is stigma tied to seeking help, or even to letting friends and loved ones know help is needed. In the construction industry, there is an opportunity to decrease stigma tied to emotional, mental, and substance use challenges and to encourage others to reach out to a friend, coworker, supervisor or a professional who can offer treatment. The construction industry can build a bridge to offer hope and encourage help-seeking across the nation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is on a mission to prevent suicide. Through community-based public health strategies as well as clinically based strategies, the VA is translating the 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide into action.

The complex problem of suicide affects the entire country, though some industries such as construction are disproportionally impacted. Data from the 2016 National Violent Death Reporting System showed that out of 20 different industries studied, men and women in the construction industry had suicide rates of 45.3 per 100,000 and 9.4 per 100,000, respectively (Peterson et al., 2020). Of the 22 occupational groups studied, men and women working in the construction and extraction occupation had suicide rates of 49.4 per 100,000 and 25.5 per 100,000, respectively (Peterson et al., 2020). These rates are nearly twice the rate of suicide for civilian working men aged 16 to 64 years (27.4 per 100,000), and over three times the rate of suicide for civilian working women aged 16 to 64 years (7.7 per 100,000) (Peterson et al., 2020). We need the construction industry to reach more people before crisis hits and to build a bridge with the suicide prevention and mental wellness community.

The construction industry is uniquely positioned to reach large numbers of the workforce. A recent article in Construction Executive highlights the numerous skills veterans bring to the industry and why they would make good hires. The leadership skills, teamwork, unique and wide range of skills sets of workers in the construction industry, opportunities to work on different jobsites and the physical nature of the work all provide numerous opportunities for mental wellness and suicide prevention strategies to be implemented. Cross-sector collaborations with public health, mental health, substance use and construction companies bring new opportunities to deploy various techniques to; decrease stigma, encourage help-seeking, amplify the message that treatment works and recovery is possible.

The construction industry can take preventative action now, including the following.

  • Encourage everyone to practice safe firearm storage and storage of other potentially lethal means that could be used in a suicidal crisis. Increasing time and space between someone in a suicidal crisis and access to a firearm or other lethal means will save lives.
  • Join community-based prevention strategies by connecting with your local Governor’s and Mayor’s Challenges to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families | SAMHSA.
  • Host wellness fairs to assure that workers know of their health care, mental health and substance use resources through Employee Assistance Program, insurance, benefits through VA for eligible veterans and through community organizations.
  • Encourage leaders to speak openly about their own help seeking behaviors and encourage the workforce to seek help when they need it.
  • Host suicide prevention trainings by reaching out to the nearest VA Suicide Prevention Coordinator in the local area.
  • Create Toolbox Talks to educate employees about warning signs of suicide, substance use and mental health issues and to encourage help-seeking.
  • Establish peer-to-peer buddy checks where construction workers check-in with each other after receiving training and education that decreases stigma about asking about suicidal thoughts and encourages seeking help.

Life challenges can build up for all of us and we can build cross-sector supports now. We have an opportunity to bridge a gap across the construction industry and decrease stigma about seeking help to prevent suicide. Organizations such as the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offer tools that can be used by the construction industry to reach people and save lives. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and the VA is here to help.

Veterans in crisis can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text to 838255. Veterans can also visit Make the Connection, a powerful network of stories of recovery, to learn more: maketheconnection.net. For more information and resources, visit VeteransCrisisLine.net/SpreadTheWord. Reporters covering this issue are strongly encouraged to visit ReportingOnSuicide.org for important guidance on ways to communicate on suicide.


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