September is suicide prevention month, and the construction industry is facing a public health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the construction industry has the highest rate of suicide, as well as the highest number of suicides among all industries. In 2018, there were 5,242 deaths by suicide among construction workers, which was five times higher than construction worker fatalities on jobsites that same year
This is a national tragedy, and we must end these devastating deaths among our colleagues. It’s time to shatter the stigma surrounding mental health issues with the goal of creating a zero-suicide construction industry. Executives must prioritize mental health and suicide prevention just as seriously as they do on-the-job safety
Construction workers are at risk for mental health issues and a higher suicide rate than other fields. For one thing, male-dominated industries are more likely to have greater instances of suicide and the building business is 97% male, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Because of the traditional stigma attached to mental health issues, men are also less likely to seek support for depression and other problems. In addition, constantly moving to different jobsites can create stress for workers displaced from their families, friends and communities. Working long, irregular hours can cause sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Employees may also be affected by seasonal layoffs, economic downturns and – in recent years — the COVID-19 pandemic with the attendant loss of income and benefits. Finally, construction work can be physically demanding, leading to self-medication and addiction problems
According to the Construction Alliance for Suicide Prevention, there are approximately three jobsite fatalities in construction every day and an estimated 10 to 12 suicides among construction workers. The only way to combat these dire statistics is to change the culture in construction and treat mental health as important as job site safety. The Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey has pledged to join other contractors, unions, associations, industry service providers and project owners in standing up for suicide prevention.
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For far too long, seeking treatment for mental health issues has been stigmatized, particularly in the male-dominated, so-called “tough guy” construction industry. Not only do we need to normalize mental health and wellness treatment, we need to provide training to our employees and managers to identify those at risk and raise awareness of the suicide crisis in construction. The industry needs to prioritize the early detection of burn-out among our workers and provide them with support, both physically and mentally
Through its partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey provides construction workers and employers with resources including free suicide prevention training, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline call center, the Crisis Text Line, toolbox talks and speakers who can provide in-person, recorded and online education on suicide awareness, prevention and postvention. And under a new federal program, help-seekers can simply call 988 to connect to mental health caregivers.
By changing the culture of the construction industry and how we approach mental health issues, we can make a difference in the lives of our workers. Our greatest asset is our people, and our goal is to create a zero-suicide industry. If you know someone who is thinking of suicide or is in need of help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
Samantha DeAlmeida is president of Associated Builders and Contractors of New Jersey.