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Success in the construction industry is largely earned by the application of verified facts gained through understanding truths from the sciences of physics, mathematics, business, finance and others. Most of the time things work best when scientific rules are applied and it makes sense. Construction leaders are well trained in these skills, but what about when something absolutely senseless happens?

Suicide breaks all the rules. It makes no sense.

When shaken by such an event, people rush to make sense of it. People impacted by trauma predictably tend to regress to more basic, primitive impulses and defenses; immediately attempt to make sense of the incident in effort to gain a feeling of control over it; and isolate from others. 

This level of reasoning immediately searches for a “bad guy” who caused the tragedy and grasps at the one thing that could have caused such a shocking decision. Projection of blame an allegations need not be accurate to be powerfully destructive. Sometimes this blaming leads to conflict, shame, violence or even another death by suicide.

Also common is the dynamic in which those close to the deceased point the finger of blame squarely at themselves:

  • What did I miss?
  • I must be an awful friend or colleague for him to be able to do that.
  • Did I put too much pressure on her?

Resist the rush to blame. Whereas there may have been a precipitating event, in reality death by suicide usually involves a multitude of factors. Rather than assign blame, a more productive life-giving approach is to provide prompt "postvention" support for those impacted by the death and to educate people regarding suicide prevention.

Postvention support may be available through the company’s Employee Assistance Program that can deploy specially trained behavioral health professionals to consult with leadership, help script messaging, lead group and individual discussions regarding the death, and assess/triage employees who may be at risk for suicide themselves and need additional support.

Effective postvention can serve as prevention.

Warning Signs

The No. 1 risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt. The following DANGER signs can help identify a person who might be at risk for suicide.

D – Depression

More than half of the time, a suicidal person is experiencing depression. Risk increases when that depression is accompanied by anxiety and even further when alcohol/drug misuse is present. Clinical depression is a serious medical illness affecting mood, concentration, activity level, interests, appetite, behavior and physical health. The most common of these symptoms include:

  • feeling sad or empty;
  • having little interest or pleasure in doing things;
  • experiencing a change in appetite with unintentional weight loss or weight gain;
  • trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much;
  • being tired, fatigued and having no energy;
  • feeling worthless or guilty and that one has let themselves or their family down;
  • having difficulty thinking or concentrating;
  • letting personal hygiene go;
  • recurring thoughts of hurting one’s self; and
  • unexplained physical problems such as backaches, headaches and digestion.

A – Alcohol and Drug Use Increases

Alcohol and drugs may seem like a good way to manage difficult feelings and situations; however, substance use usually acts to mask the underlying problem, which grows worse because it’s not being addressed. Alcohol is a depressant and it reduces judgment and impulse control—a lethal combination for someone who is considering self-harm. More than one-third of the time someone uses alcohol just before attempting suicide.

N – Negativity

People contemplating suicide are feeling overwhelmed and powerless to get better or to change their circumstances. The feeling is often a symptom of a mental health condition (e.g., depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, opioid addiction); a serious or chronic/painful health condition (e.g., cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.); or extremely stressful life events (e.g., death, divorce, job/financial loss, or prolonged exposure to abuse, harassment or bullying).

G – Giving Life Away

Frequently, those with suicidal plans activate a “living will” by allocating cherished objects, positions, activities and relationships to others. In some cases, the person will behave in ways to push loved ones away because they would be “better off without me” and feel this will lessen the pain for their loved one when they are gone.

E – Estrangement

People contemplating suicide often pull away from friends, family and social activities that they normally enjoy. The individual often feels different than others and uncomfortable in groups. Also, the isolation serves as a means to distance him or her from the pain of ultimate separation.

R – Rage and Revenge

Some who are experiencing suicidal thinking exhibit a spectrum of anger-related behaviors, including irritability, a short fuse, ranting or road rage. Suicide risk is elevated when the person expresses anger without regard to consequences to themself and others. In some cases, the person will try to get revenge on others through suicide or a combined homicide-suicide.

When a person is experiencing some or many of these DANGER signs, it is very difficult for them to reach out and ask for help. However, not having anyone notice or reach out to them confirms their worst fears. Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. Take the risk of asking an uncomfortable question. “I care enough about you to risk ticking you off. Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

Rather than rushing to assign blame, a better strategy is to apply solutions for recovery from one death and prevention of others.

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