The Sub-Specialty Contractor’s Role in Mental Health & Suicide Prevention

May is Mental Health Month and the perfect time for sub-specialty contractors to consider all they are doing to address suicide prevention and mental health in the workplace. Sub-specialty contractors, as the employers of many craft and trade workers, have a direct connection to the lives of millions of construction workers. Since construction is the leading industry in the number of suicide deaths and the highest suicide rate, four times the national average, in fact, contractors can make a significant impact in addressing the nation’s mental illness and suicide issues. A great way to get started is by using the Needs Analysis and Integration Checklist available, along with many other resources, from the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention website:

Creating a Caring Culture
The key to any suicide prevention program in the workplace is creating a caring culture. As a sub-specialty contractor, effecting culture change may be more possible since leadership can interact with employees on a frequent basis and more closely than in a large organization. Bold leadership is a critical component of suicide prevention and mental health; having leaders who can share stories of hope and promote acceptance is paramount in reducing the stigma. Making employees feel safe asking for help without fear of shame or rejection is a first step to connecting those with mental illness or who may be at risk of suicide to care.

Direct Connections Mean Greater Relationships
Many of the warning signs for an individual dealing with mental illness or at risk of suicide focus on changes in behavior and actions: the top performer who starts making mistakes, the safety star who has a series of near misses, the punctual employee who regularly starts arriving late a crew member with perfect attendance who calls out repeatedly, or the team player who is suddenly angry or combative. Part of being able to recognize these warning signs is having relationships between employees, and between supervision or management and their employees. In a sub-specialty company that is the direct employer of supervisors and crews. Creating relationships where these can be identified is more possible than in a large general contracting or construction management firm. Once managers, supervisors, and crew members are educated on what to watch out for, they are better equipped at recognizing these signs from their co-workers.

In addition, life events that may elevate suicide risks, such as divorce, death in the family, financial challenges, or family/relationship issues, are more recognizable in a sub-specialty company where crews of employees may be more connected and working side by side on a daily basis. When these events are known, the team surrounding the impacted individual can look for other warning signs and form a support network.

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About the Author

Michelle Walker

Michelle Walker, CCIFP, SPHR is the Vice President of Finance and Administration at SSC Underground, based in Phoenix, AZ. She is responsible for the accounting/finance and human resource/employee benefit functions of the company, with a primary focus in workforce planning and development.

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