Every day, our LIUNA brothers and sisters fight personal battles related to mental health and substance use. Whatever those struggles may be, addressing mental health concerns is a crucial part of supporting our members and helping them live fulfilling, fruitful lives. That’s why at the LHSFNA, we’re spotlighting different behavioral health initiatives being led by LIUNA affiliates across the country. Today, we’re talking about the New York State Laborers’ Health & Safety Trust Fund’s (NYSLHSF) Hope Lives campaign that launched this past September.
“Here at LIUNA, we make it a point to support our brothers and sisters through every high or low they may face,” said LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Trustee Michael F. Sabitoni. “Now more than ever, it’s imperative we work together to protect the mental health and well-being of ourselves and the members we serve.”
Across LIUNA Regions, the genesis stories of different behavioral health initiatives sound similar. It usually begins with recognizing that the mental health crisis within the construction industry poses a serious threat to the well-being of LIUNA members and their families. At that point, the need for action becomes clear.
For the NYSLHSF, the Hope Lives campaign that’s drawing attention in 2023 actually had its beginnings several years ago. When asked what sparked the idea for their awareness campaign, the team – led by the Fund’s Executive Director Frank Marchese, Senior Occupational Safety & Health Specialist TJ Smith and Safety & Health Field Coordinator John Nimmo – explained that their work really started pre-pandemic. In 2019, Smith and Nimmo enrolled in a six-month training course on suicide prevention where they were confronted with some concerning facts about suicide in the construction industry.
“Learning that our industry experienced the highest rates of suicide and just how many people are affected by it ever year, it was obvious we needed to do something about it,” Nimmo said. However, he noted these initiatives had to take the backseat when COVID-19 brought ordinary life to a halt. But as COVID-related concerns came and went, and the mental health crisis persisted, they knew they had to pick up where they left off.
In March 2023, the NYSLHSF reached out to a communications firm to start developing Hope Lives, a campaign aimed at raising awareness for the suicide crisis in our industry and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
“We recognized the importance of being there for our members who may be struggling and wanted to do something meaningful,” Marchese explained. “Hope Lives puts mental health front and center and directs our members to lifesaving and life-changing resources.”
The team worked to develop a variety of branded materials, including posters offered in several languages, hats, stickers and billboards. All their collateral includes the Hope Lives logo, a QR code leading to the Hope Lives landing page and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (988). The landing page serves as a centralized hub, offering easy access to a variety of resources to help those in need. These materials were distributed to Local Unions and training centers to spread the word.
As an awareness campaign, however, Hope Lives needed to be highly visible. So the natural next question became, “how can we reach more people?” In response, Smith proposed the idea of creating branded coffee cups and bringing them directly to the field.
“I thought, what better way to get our materials in the hands of Laborers than to target something they all love: coffee,” Smith said. Several Local Unions hold monthly Saturday morning meetings that accommodate upwards of 150 members. This proved to be an effective forum for spreading the word. The team partnered with a local bagel shop to bring coffee trucks to these meetings and jobsites and hand out coffee using the Hope Lives cups. Doing this not only helped spread the word about the campaign, but also increased membership participation in meetings. The cups are now used in the Region’s union halls and training centers as well.
Bringing Hope to Every Region
While every Region may not be equipped with the resources, personnel or time to develop a robust behavioral health program or initiative, everyone can do something to help people. What’s unique about the Hope Lives campaign is that it primarily relies on outside resources that are effective, free, easy to use and available 24/7, making it adaptable and usable for any Region. For example, this past September, the LHSFNA partnered with Tyler Ankrum to promote Suicide Prevention Awareness Month using co-branded Hope Lives content on a national level.
“We aren’t social workers, and we’re not trying to reinvent what already exists,” Marchese said. “We’re operating on a smaller scale to spread the word and we’re still making a big impact. Any of our affiliates can use these resources and the Hope Lives materials to make a difference in their own communities, too.”
When asked about the performance of the campaign, the team shared that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. To Marchese, Smith and Nimmo, success isn’t defined by how many posters are hung up or how many coffee cups are distributed, but by whether or not they helped someone.
“What if this program saves one member? What if this program saves one spouse, or one child? Then we’re way ahead of the game and this program was a great success,” said Marchese.