It's important for construction companies to address the prevalence and impact of mental health challenges in the industry to diminish the risk of suicide and injuries while improving job performance, according to one construction mental health expert.
“Do not wait for a tragedy to happen,” said Mandy McIntyre during a recent webinar, “because there is a problem, and it’s only a matter of time before it hits home for your business.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide rates among construction workers are significantly higher than in the general population. Their rate of suicide is about four times higher than the general population and is the second-highest rate of all industries.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mental health includes “emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. It helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.”
In August, the team spearheading Construction Suicide Prevention Week Sept. 4-8 hosted a webinar led by McIntyre, owner and president of Level Up Consultants in Cleveland. McIntyre, who previously worked for a roofing company for a decade and has been around the industry for much of her life, is a passionate advocate for mental health awareness and support in the construction industry. She is a registered Mental Health First Aid instructor via the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
McIntyre highlighted why construction companies should care about mental health issues and the key ways their leaders can support their team members through mental health challenges.
ROI for company leaders
Companies that implement mental health awareness and safety initiatives, McIntyre noted, see a reduced risk of physical injury, improved job performance, reduced substance and alcohol use and—most importantly—diminished loss of life.
According to data from the World Health Organization, every $1 spent promoting mental health returns $4 in better health and work productivity. This is particularly important because other data shows mental illness will cost the global economy $16 trillion in lost output by 2030.
Additionally, according to 2022 data from international talent and outsourcing company Yoh, 76% of people believe companies should be doing more to support mental health at work. Addressing it can give your company a recruitment and retention edge over other businesses that are not focusing on mental health support.
‘It takes more than a hard hat to keep a head safe’
Instead of reacting in the wake of a tragedy, companies should create space to talk about mental health to break down the stigma.
“It takes more than a hard hat to keep a head safe,” she said. “We need to be proactive.”
Some ways McIntyre suggested normalizing conversations about mental health include:
- Holding monthly toolbox talks and lunch and learns focused on mental health and well-being.
- Sponsoring workshops on related topics, including stress management, yoga and more.
- Bringing up issues related to stress, depression, anxiety or suicide.
- Avoiding stigmatizing language that assigns negative labels, stereotypes and judgment.
- Promoting insurance options and employee assistance plan benefits.
- Making mental wellness part of your safety boards.
- Supporting efforts to get help and enhance access (i.e., creating a QR code that links to mental health resources online).
- Participating in mental health first aid training.
“If we want people to perform well, they have to feel well,” said McIntyre. “If you see something, say something. [That saying] applies to mental health, too, and could be the difference literally between life and death.”
McIntyre also dispelled the myth that that asking a person about suicide will encourage them to attempt suicide. Rather, she said, asking directly serves as a deterrent.
“Do not be afraid to ask the question.”
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a phone hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help them. Trained listeners speak English and Spanish. Visit 988lifeline.org for crisis chat services or for more information.