Suicide and mental health are issues that are too often overlooked in our society. The construction industry, in particular, has the highest rate of suicide per industry. Mental illnesses are diseases affecting the brain that can be monitored and treated. According to many medical and psychological associations, including the American Psychological Association, suicide is preventable.
You're Not Alone - A Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Blog for the Construction Industry by Bob Swanson
Hitting Lofty Goals: Lessons Learned from Changing our Safety Culture
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If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that one of the key points I make is that mental health issues should be treated the same as physical issues. Our society is slowly but surely coming around to this viewpoint, but one need look no further than health benefits for an example of this issue.
Many of humanity’s greatest achievements began with a huge, audacious goal that seemed impossible. One of the most famous such goals was President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man safely on the moon in the span of 10 years. That goal was achieved with time to spare. Our own construction industry has also seen lofty goals set and reached.
The construction industry I entered in the 1960’s drastically changed over my 45-year career, especially in regards to safety. When I entered the industry, jobsite injuries and fatalities were considered a given due to the inherent hazards. By the 1980’s, jobsite fatalities were no longer considered acceptable and zero injury campaigns began. Fast forward to today: jobsite injuries are no longer considered acceptable, and the focus is now on zero near misses. There was a culture change; the cost and loss of valuable human resources became the focus of labor and management.
Initially there was an acknowledgement that the status quo was not acceptable and the well-being of employees and union members became a priority. Hazard analysis, the use of personal protective equipment and the use of other safety equipment became standard operating procedures. Today it is common for many companies to have zero injuries throughout a span of more than one year. Our industry set a lofty goal and attained it.
What would happen if the same process was used to attain zero suicides in the construction industry? Out of all industries, construction has the most suicides and the highest suicide rate. Our industry’s suicide rate is four times greater than the general population. We should all be outraged by our industry’s suicide epidemic.
Last month I talked about the importance of all employees having access to mental health benefits. It is also important for you to promote the creation of a culture where employees can talk openly about mental illness, substance use and suicidal thoughts. As business owners, are you providing a climate where it’s okay to talk about these issues without judgement or negative consequences? Do you have a return to work program for these issues similar to that of physical ailments?
As an industry let’s begin by stating that suicide deaths are unacceptable. September is Suicide Prevention Month and Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. We changed the safety culture, now lets change the mental health culture. Everyone needs to know and believe it is acceptable to seek help, and everyone needs to be supported when they seek help.
Learn more about this important topic from Bob's podcast on mental health awareness and suicide prevention in the construction industry.