Close this search box.

Suicide: The Silent Epidemic

As a society, there was a time when we didn’t say the word “cancer” out loud, but rather only whispered it. The word was associated with shame and embarrassment. We have certainly come a long way since then – pink ribbons have become synonymous with breast cancer, people raise money for cancer via Facebook and we openly discuss health habits and behaviors to try and prevent cancer.

Unfortunately, we are way behind when it comes to our comfort level in discussing and accepting mental health-related issues, including suicide. The recent high-profile suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have brought more attention to this crisis in our country, where we are currently losing about 105 people to suicide every day.

Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline spiked 65 percent the week after news of Bourdain and Spade’s suicides, showing that there are a lot of people suffering from depression and other mental health issues. Two recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the increase in suicides across the U.S. between 1999 and 2016:

  • Suicide was the second leading cause of death among people age 10-34 and the fourth leading cause of death among people age 35-54.
  • Nearly 45,000 Americans over age 10 died by suicide in 2016 – more than double the number who died by homicide.
  • Every state but Nevada showed higher suicide rates, ranging from an increase of 5.9 percent in Delaware to 57.6 percent in North Dakota.
  • The suicide rate among males is nearly four times higher than females.

In a separate 2016 report, the CDC found that construction has the second highest rate of suicide for any industry. Factors that contribute to high rates of suicide in construction include:

  • Male dominated industry
  • Higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse, including prescription opioid use
  • Shift work or non-traditional hours, leading to sleep disruption
  • Time away from families
  • Relationship and financial stress
  • Chronic pain from hard, physical labor
  • Access to lethal means
  • Mental health concerns that go unchecked, often due to stigma or a tough guy/girl culture

Changing the Conversation

Acknowledging that suicide is a real problem and taking steps to address it will require many of us to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves. That includes working to address the following areas at both a national and local level:

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan
  • Destigmatizing mental health – it is not a weakness or a moral failing
  • Addressing substance use disorders – there is a direct link between mental health and substance abuse
  • Increasing peer support programs
  • Identifying champions throughout LIUNA – it helps to hear stories from others who may have felt this way before or been in a similar situation
  • Education and training for both leadership and membership
  • Mentorship between older/younger workers

One of the biggest challenges in addressing behavioral health issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide is figuring how to balance business needs with human needs. We know jobsites still need to run smoothly, but we also know that the wellbeing of workers is critical to making sure work gets done safely. It’s also the right thing to do.

“LIUNA takes the health and safety of its members very seriously. That includes their mental and emotional health,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “LIUNA members refer to each other as brothers and sisters because the union is a family. When times are tough, families stick together and support each other. The support of a union brother or sister during a tough time could make all the difference in another member’s life.”

Know These 12 Suicide Warning Signs

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide

Five Steps to Help Someone at Risk

  1. Ask
  2. Keep them safe
  3. Be there
  4. Help them connect
  5. Follow up

Find out how this can save a life by visiting

Suicide Prevention Resources 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours/day, seven days/week). Those in need can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 (U.S) or 686868 (Canada).

Mental Health First Aid

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

Screening for Mental Health, Inc.

The LHSFNA is determined to help remove both the institutional and cultural barriers that keep many people from getting the help they need to live their best life possible.

[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion]

Recent Lifelines