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A Blueprint for Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry

If you work in construction, there is a good chance you or someone you know has been affected by suicide. Research finds that workers in this industry are at a higher risk for suicide compared to many other professions.

Understandably, suicide is not usually a topic of conversation around the jobsite. With that in mind, the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, a Colorado-based suicide prevention nonprofit, partnered with a local contractor and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention to launch an initiative they hope will save lives. “A Construction Industry Blueprint: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace” is a free suicide prevention manual that provides guidance to construction managers on how to make suicide prevention an out-in-the-open health and safety priority. This includes training for initiating conversations about suicide and developing materials like posters that promote mental health and encourage people who are struggling with not feeling embarrassed about seeking assistance.

A common, serious and costly health problem

Each year, more than 41,000 Americans die by suicide and almost half a million receive medical care for suicide attempts. Combined medical and lost work costs associated with suicide are estimated at $51 billion. More people die by suicide than car crashes, but because of the stigma associated with these deaths, the public is unaware of just how common suicide is. This makes prevention difficult.

Suicide crosses all age, cultural, economic and professional brackets, but some groups are more susceptible than others. Sally Spencer-Thomas, Co-Founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, said the construction industry is vulnerable because it has a “tough-guy culture.”

“This tough exterior can prevent workers from reaching out and getting much needed support and treatment,” Spencer-Thomas said.

Timely professional treatment can often prevent someone considering suicide to act. It is crucial that family, friends and co-workers are aware of suicide’s warning signs and seek help immediately.

Depression and Suicide

Depression is a serious illness that can contribute to suicide when left untreated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 18.8 million American adults (9.5 percent of the adult population) will suffer from a depressive illness in a given year.

If you or someone in your family is struggling with depression, get help. See if you have access to a Member Assistance Program (MAP). Your health and welfare fund may also provide benefits.

Warning signs that someone may be considering suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free, confidential hotline, provides 24/7 assistance to anyone in crisis or emotional distress.
  • 1-800-273-TALK (8255) connects you to the crisis center nearest you. These centers provide counseling and mental health referrals.
  • Call 911 if someone has made a suicide attempt or is actively talking about committing suicide. If you are with them, stay there until help arrives.

Anyone who talks about killing themselves should be taken seriously. If you think someone is considering this but they deny it, seek assistance anyway. Time is of the essence when preventing a suicide and there is no such thing as an overreaction.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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