CEO’s Message: September Is Suicide Prevention Month

While CFMA has been working on the issue of suicide prevention for nearly five years, my guess is many of you are totally unaware that this is a significant issue in the construction industry, and even less familiar with what CFMA has done. So, let me get you up to speed. The conversation on this topic began when “Mental Illness & Suicide: Break the Silence & Create a Caring Culture” by Cal Beyer and Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas was published in the November/December 2015 issue of CFMA Building Profits. After the incredible response from you, our members, as reflected by your comments in the Connection Café, we sought to enlist other construction industry associations and other interested parties into the conversation.

In July 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study on suicide risk by profession that found construction had the second-highest rate of suicide. This spawned the creation of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) Task Force within CFMA. In 2018, right before the CDC updated its research and found the construction and extraction industry to be the most at-risk industry for suicide, CIASP became a separate 501(c)(3) organization.

Why is suicide so common in construction? From a demographics standpoint, white men in their early 20s through 50s account for the bulk of suicides, and we all know construction is a male-dominated industry. Other risk factors in construction include a “tough guy” culture, frequent travel leading to family separation and isolation, seasonal layoffs and end-of-job furloughs, elevated alcohol and opioid use, and exposure to lethal means that make it easier to die by suicide. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the corresponding jobsite shutdowns, have also added to an already stressful environment.

Even though construction worker suicides are five times greater than those incurred by the fatal four deaths as measured by OSHA, there is still hope. First, protecting people’s mental health and improving it is good business. If you make strides to improve your company culture, then your employees (your most important resource) will see that you care about them and their mental health. That’s going to be a win-win for your company, which is particularly important at a time when there is still a stigma about working in the construction industry.

Second, it’s important to know the warning signs. These signs can include feeling sad or depressed, increased use of alcohol or drugs, extreme mood swings, and feeling helpless or hopeless. There are also construction industry warning signs, including decreased productivity, increased conflict with coworkers, and possible near-accidents or injuries on the jobsite. But help is on the way, as CIASP has many resources available at www.preventconstructionsuicide.com to help identify and intervene when someone is in need.

Third, resources such as toolbox talks are also available through CIASP for management to consider. Fourth, if you do unfortunately experience a suicide in your company, CIASP also has resources available to help family members and coworkers deal with the loss.

CIASP invites companies and organizations to pledge to STAND up against suicide. STANDing up for suicide prevention is about creating safe cultures, providing training to identify and help those at risk, raising awareness about the suicide crisis in construction, normalizing the conversation around suicide, and ultimately decreasing the risks associated with suicide in construction.

I encourage you and all CFMA chapters to take the pledge to help increase the awareness about suicide in our industry. It’s important to continue to fight for the people in the construction industry. And, hopefully, you now have the knowledge and resources to make this a priority in your company. 

Copyright © 2020 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in September/October 2020 CFMA Building Profits magazine.

About the Author

Stuart Binstock

Stuart Binstock is the President & CEO of CFMA. Mr. Binstock oversees CFMA's strategic development and is responsible for cultivating relationships with other construction industry organizations and partners.

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