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Over the past five years there has been a significant increase in the volume of specific communication about the importance of suicide prevention in the construction industry. This has corresponded with an uptick in the level of communication about suicide and suicide prevention throughout society, including media coverage and entertainment programming. The construction industry has experienced one of the highest suicide rates across all industries so heightened communications about this growing public health issue has never been more important or timely.

Much of this increased communication has been deliberately influenced and guided by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance), the nation’s public-private partnership for suicide prevention tasked with advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention—the nation’s roadmap for addressing suicide. 

The Action Alliance has a network of more than 250 federal and private partner organizations representing all major sectors including, automobile, defense, education, entertainment, faith, forestry, health, insurance, justice, law enforcement, mental health, military, news media, professional sporting, railroad, technology, veteran services—as well as construction. The Action Alliance has helped to inform the National Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide for the news media to ensure responsible media coverage, developed the first-ever Framework for Successful Messaging for public messengers to ensure safe public messaging, and spearheaded the nation’s only National Recommendations for Depicting Suicide for the entertainment sector. The Action Alliance recognizes it takes all sectors of society to reduce stigma, promote help-seeking, and ultimately, transform the national dialogue about suicide and suicide prevention.

Communicating About Suicide Prevention During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, many mental health organizations conducted surveys and concluded that mental health has risen to be top of mind for employers and employees alike. Many media sources and mental health organizations regularly report that the American public is experiencing rising levels of stress, anxiety, depression and substance misuse during the pandemic. 

According to Kim Torguson, Director of Communications for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, which is housed at the Education Development Center, “The urgency for suicide prevention communications is vitally important in the wake of COVID-19. The importance of conveying care and hope cannot be overstated during these trying times. Just as we are washing our hands, wearing masks, and practicing physical distancing, it’s essential we care for our and other’s emotional needs in the same way.”

Torguson shared that the “Action Alliance conducted a perception poll during the pandemic during 2020 in conjunction with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and EDC that showed over 80% of people says it’s more important than ever to make suicide prevention a national priority as a result of the pandemic.” Additional survey findings showed over half of respondents reported being more open to talking about mental health since the pandemic, and 66% reported being more empathetic. This is positive news and points in a favorable direction. 

However, Torguson advised that more work remains to be done to advance suicide prevention at home, at school, and in the workplace. She highlighted the survey showed that “while people want to play a role in suicide prevention, many people expressed concerns, such as not knowing what to say (31%), feeling they don’t have enough knowledge (28%), or not feeling comfortable with the topic (19%).” 

Safe Messaging Through Lived Experience, Storytelling, and Caring Messages

Torguson asserts “the importance of using safe messaging and sharing stories of ‘lived experience’ to promote awareness, understanding and advocacy for suicide prevention.” According to the SPRC, persons with “lived experience are individuals who have experienced a suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts and feelings, or a suicide loss.” Torguson asserts “engaging people with lived experience can be a powerful way to create greater empathy and understanding, generate greater hope for people at risk, and inform suicide prevention services, programming and supports.” See The Importance of Storytelling in Messaging Suicide Prevention in the Workplace

Torguson also emphasizes that “it is so important to be able to talk about suicide, and to be comfortable reaching out to those who are struggling (regardless of whether there is a history of mental illness or self-harm) to ask them directly, ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ While it may be awkward or difficult to have those conversations, evidence has clearly demonstrated that talking about suicidal thoughts or feelings can increase hope and help someone on their journey to recovery.” See Post-COVID-19 Strategies to Promote Mental Well-Being and Suicide Prevention. The Powerful Reach and Touch of Caring Messages: An Interview with Dr. Ursula Whiteside

Additional Action Steps for Employers, Family Members, Friends and Neighbors

Torguson offered the following concrete action steps people can take to help those, especially who might be struggling, feeling helpless and/or hopeless: 

  • Ask “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  • Keep them safe. Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  • Be there. Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
  • Help them connect. Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (800-273-TALK) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) in the phone so they’re there if needed. Help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor or mental health professional.
  • Stay connected. Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

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