Colorado Public Works Journal, Spring-Summer 2020
16 Colorado Public Works Journal By Monica Dutcher Getting Real About Mental Health Ten steps toward integrating mental health into your safety, health, and wellness program. Images © Cal Beyer According to an analysis published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, males working in construction have the highest suicide rates in the country. This coincides with the 34 percent increase in the suicide rate among the U.S. work- ing age population during 2000 to 2016. These numbers are too staggering to deem mental health taboo in the workplace. The stigma is lifting and real conversations are starting. Checking in with your crewmates to let them know you care demonstrates respect and concern for their well-being. If your company hasn’t already, it’s time to integrate mental health into your safety, health, and wellness programs. This article provides a pathway to addressing mental health and suicide prevention in your organization. Why Construction Workers? Construction workers are vulnerable to several factors that place them at high risk for suicide. Many crew members work long hours and spend a lot of time away from their families, often becoming so absorbed by their work schedule that they neglect to prioritize positive outlets in their lives. Furthermore, there is a lot of pressure in our industry, frequently expressed as budget, schedule, productivity, quality, and safety standards. Adding to the pile, end-of-season or end-of-project layoffs can create financial burden if someone has not put money away for the off-season. Studies reveal that a majority of male employees do not take time to see doctors or mental health counselors for mounting stress, despair, or sadness. As a result, the industry has a high rate of alcohol and drug use disorders as well as the highest use of prescription pain medications. Accept the Challenge For those companies who have not yet incorporated mental health into a safety, health, and wellness program, start with the premise that lives are at risk and that perfection is a killer. “Accept that the initial plan will be imperfect. I use the analogy of building the bridge while you cross it,” said Cal Beyer, who is Vice President, Workforce Risk & Mental Wellbeing at Cobb Strecker Dunphy Zimmerman (CSDZ) and serves on the executive committee for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. “It is empowering and it spurs just-in-time solutions to challenges.” Getting Started So, you’ve already made the first decision: to address mental health in the workplace. If your company has an established, car- ing culture towards its employees, then it will be natural to weave mental health and suicide prevention into your safety culture. “I use the tag-line ‘the next frontier in safety,’” said Beyer. “This is a perfect stepping stone and allows for candid conversations about how mental health and suicide prevention are the next stages of Safety 24/7 (or zero injury) culture development.” If your company does not have an established caring culture towards its employees, then this road is steeper. It is not insurmountable, but it will inherently take longer. This requires bolder leadership, decisive no-holds-barred action, and serious commitment to drive change. Regardless of the status at your company, it can be overwhelming to know how and where to start with so many resources available on the topic of suicide prevention. The following 10 steps corral a lot of that information to help you more efficiently integrate mental health into your safety, health, and wellness program.