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When the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its milestone report on occupation and suicide earlier this month, many construction industry leaders took notice.

For the first time, researchers were able to rank industries by highest rates and the largest numbers of deaths by suicide across 17 states. Construction was ranked number two for highest rates of suicide and number one for highest numbers.

Why is the Construction Industry Suicide Rate So High?

Two reasons for the high suicide rate are the workforce and the nature of the work.

  1. Workforce demographics. Of the approximate 43,000 people who die by suicide annually, about 75 percent are working-aged men. Men, especially white men from their early 20s through their 50s, account for the bulk of suicides and the majority of years of life lost due to suicide. Therefore, male-dominated industries tend to have more suicides than industries that have a gender balance or are predominantly female. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 97.4 percent of the U.S. construction workforce is male and 56.9 percent of the U.S. construction workforce is caucasian.
  2. Nature of the work and work culture. When workplaces have increased exposure to heightened stress, untreated mental illness, trauma, violence, substance abuse and access to lethal means, the risk of mental health crises and suicide becomes even greater. The construction industry can be prone to specific risk factors, including:
  • stoic, “old school” and “tough guy” culture;
  • fearlessness and “thrill seeking;”
  • promotion of supervision without leadership training;
  • family separation and isolation with travel;
  • sleep disruption/deprivation due to shift work;
  • seasonal layoffs and end-of-project furloughs;
  • tolerant culture of alcohol and substance abuse;
  • chronic pain;
  • industry with highest use of prescription opioids;
  • performance pressure (schedule, budget and quality);
  • access to lethal means; and
  • skills gap to do something else (e.g., trapped in a job with no way out and needing to provide for family members).
Thus, employees in the construction industry have an increased risk for suicide and would benefit from comprehensive and sustained programming to educate them about resiliency and mental health services, as well as how to cope with overwhelming life challenges throughout their careers.

Solutions for Suicide Prevention in Construction

Just as schools are the venue for youth suicide prevention training, workplaces provide the most accessible opportunity for mental health promotion and suicide prevention for working-aged adults. The Surgeon General’s new National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (2012) specifically targets employers as critical stakeholders in the prevention of suicide and suggest that businesses and employers can:

  • implement organizational changes to promote the mental and emotional health of employees;
  • ensure that mental health services are included as a benefit in health plans and encourage employees to use these services as needed;
  • train employees and supervisors to recognize coworkers in distress and respond appropriately;
  • ensure that counselors in an employee assistance program (EAP) are equipped to assess and manage suicide risk;
  • ensure that mental health services offered to employees include grief counseling for individuals bereaved by suicide; and
  • evaluate the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs in reducing suicide risk.
On World Suicide Prevention Day 2015, the Carson J Spencer Foundation and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention launched the first Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention. Since then, several other resources have emerged to help construction leaders understand best practices in prevention, mental health services and crisis response.

Resources

Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention

Construction Working Minds Website

Construction + Suicide Prevention: 10 Questions Leaders Need to Ask Themselves

Construction + Suicide Prevention: 10 Action Steps Companies Can Take to Save Lives

HelpPro Suicide Prevention Therapist Finder

Man Therapy (using humor to engage men in mental health)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Veterans Crisis Line

Workplace Response (Screening for Mental Health)
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