This is why we all need to talk about mental health in construction
Updated May 5, 2023
By Curt Trnka | Blue Print Editorial Team
By Curt Trnka | Blue Print Editorial Team
Brandon Anderson couldn’t make it to the office. This was a problem because he needed to be on a video call. He felt so strongly about the meeting that he simply pulled over and took the call from his truck.
That’s how much he cares about mental health in the construction industry.
For some, mental health can be an uncomfortable topic. And for Anderson, a safety consultant with AGC Missouri, that statement seems especially true among construction workers.
“The suicide rate in the construction field is four times higher in Missouri than it is in the rest of the nation,” said Anderson. “So we know we need to take action, and this happening across the nation. Calls to hotlines are spiking.”
AGC is aiming to provide help through a campaign called the Pledge of Hope. The goal is to bring resources to those in the construction field so they can get trained in mental health first aid and awareness. AGCMO’s goal is to have at least one person trained on each jobsite in the next 12 months.
Why this industry?
Asked why this is happening in the construction industry, Anderson pauses and looks out the window of his truck before answering.
“This is a male-dominated industry with a ‘tough guy’ culture,” said Anderson “We’re talking about high-stress jobs where workers are facing demanding schedules with long hours and frequent travel. Add in that the work is seasonal, layoffs are common, and that COVID upended ‘normal’ life, and it’s a recipe for trouble.”
Anderson also points out the situation can be aggravated by injuries and chronic pains, which are sometimes treated with opioids. Now, combine all of that with high rates of alcohol and drug use and it’s easy to see how mental health could be affected and how suicidal thoughts could enter the picture.
“We can’t focus on just one thing, though,” said Anderson. “We’ve started referring to everything as mental health and not just focusing solely on suicide. Some of our other partners like Dr. John Gall and the agencies he's associated with are moving to total employee wellness and mental health awareness.”
Anderson stresses that one of the best things anyone can do is educate themselves and talk with others. He stressed it’s important to let employees know that they are not alone and there is help. Advice that seems to apply to the efforts AGCMO is making.
“We’re working with Dr. Ann Marie Dale out of Washington University here in St. Louis,” said Anderson. “It’s one of the top universities in the country, and we're working with her and her team on content that’s specific to the construction industry.”
But if you’re looking for just one takeaway, focus on conversations. Make sure more people feel it’s OK to talk about mental health. “You are not alone” is a slogan of the suicide prevention program, and that feeds into the idea that communication is key.
“Having someone to talk with when you really need it is huge,” said Anderson. “We try to make it easier for jobsites to wrap this topic into their regular safety meetings. We have 12 downloadable Tool Box Talks so that once a month, you can have a Mental Health Monday. It walks you through the topic and keeps it top of mind for everyone. We just want to keep everyone thinking about it and open to the idea of talking.”
How to Help
AGC Missouri started the suicide prevention program with donations from members.
“We’re a nonprofit agency,” said Brandon Anderson a safety consultant with AGC Missouri. “We don’t really have a specific budget for this. It’s just based on donations. We’ll keep raising money and putting it towards mental health training for construction workers.
So there's always time to give money and get involved. And if you’re a company and make a donation, we’re going to push to get your logo added to the banners we make.”
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