Did you know that the average construction worker is six times more likely to succumb to suicide than be killed in a construction industry accident? For workers age 24 and younger, that number skyrockets to 10 times as likely. In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control did a survey of 17 states and found that the construction industry had 1,324 suicides just in those 17 states for that year. This statistic showed that the construction industry was leading in industries with a mental health problem.
The rate of suicide in the United States is highest with white males between the ages of 25 and 54. The risk for suicide in the construction industry gets higher when it is revealed that workers in any industry who only have a high school education are at a higher risk for suicide than anyone else. The primary demographic for construction workers in the United States is high school educated white males ranging in age from 20 to 54.
The Mental Health Problem In Construction
Throughout the United States, there had been a problem with people getting help for their mental health issues, but that problem was heightened in the construction industry. The construction industry is primarily made up of males, and there is a machismo about the industry that had prevented workers from talking about their feelings in any way. After years of men repressing their feelings, the suicide problem in the construction industry is coming to light, and that revelation is helping workers to start opening up about their problems.
Another issue with mental health is that construction workers consistently indicated in surveys done over the past few years that they either felt they could handle their issues on their own, or they had no idea where to look for help. With construction offering inconsistent pay throughout the year, many workers also indicated that they felt they could not afford the mental health treatment they needed.
The Growing Suicide Problem In The Construction Industry
We have seen the numbers regarding suicide in the construction industry, and those numbers are alarming. But why are construction workers so inclined to take their own lives in such large numbers? There are many reasons, and understanding these reasons is the first step in finding a solution to the problem. Here are just a few of the more prominent reasons for the high suicide rate in the construction industry.
Construction is a feast or famine type of career. While the labor shortage in the construction industry has helped to get more work to the people who have been in the industry for years, work usually ends around the winter. Some workers can find work in warmer climates during the winter, but many construction workers are forced to rely on unemployment or odd jobs when construction work is done for the season.
Stress Of Deadlines
That labor shortage just discussed combined with the traditional construction practice of having tight deadlines, creates a volatile situation. Workers are constantly under stress to finish projects by the company’s deadline, and the lack of workers on each job site makes everything that much more stressful.
Inability To Find Someone To Talk To
The machismo in the construction industry is a large contributing factor to the growing suicide rate. For years, construction workers felt compelled to keep their mental health issues under wraps because they did not know who they could talk to about it. Even supervisors were not considered safe to talk to because of the fear of losing their jobs. A construction worker who tried to talk to their family about their mental health issues ran the risk of an overprotective family reaching out to the company and making the situation transparent to all of the worker’s friends.
Avoiding Being Associated With The Stigma
Along with having no one to talk to about their mental health issues, construction workers also desperately wanted to avoid the stigma that came with admitting to having a problem. For some construction workers, suicide was a preferable alternative to being labeled as someone with mental health issues. That stigma kept workers who needed help from getting the treatment that could have saved their lives.
Inconsistent Work Schedules
In the construction industry, you could work first, second, and third shift all in the same project. In some projects, companies insist on overtime to meet project deadlines. This juggling of schedules makes it difficult to have a consistent personal life for construction workers, and that can have a serious toll on the mental health of some people.
Time Away from Their Families
Many construction workers travel to wherever they can find work, especially supervisors. This means that many workers spend several months out of the year away from home. Anyone who is not expecting to be away from home for their job can find it difficult to be away from their families for so long.
The Construction Industry is Making Positive Strides
The data had reached a point where the construction industry could no longer ignore what was going on, and now some companies are taking action. Companies such as RK out of Colorado are implementing mental health awareness as part of their wellness program. Experts in suicide prevention in the construction industry are being brought in to give workers the resources they need to help start dealing with their mental health issues.
A program called Construction Industry Blueprint: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace is offered online free of charge to construction companies that want to address this problem head-on. The package includes information construction companies need to know about suicide, and ways that the company can help workers to find the resources they need to get their issues taken care of. Some companies have started making mental health awareness and suicide prevention a part of their overall corporate safety training programs for workers and managers.
Facing Challenges Head On
Construction work can be physically demanding, but it is the mental health challenges associated with the work that have recently taken center stage. Construction workers are more likely to commit suicide than workers in any other industry, and the construction field is no longer going to remain silent about this problem. Thousands of workers commit suicide every year, and the likelihood that a construction worker will take their own life is much higher than the possibility that they will die on the job.
The traditional demands of deadlines and seasonal work are going to be difficult for the construction industry to address, but the culture of machismo that has prevented mental health issues from being discussed is slowly starting to change. Today, many companies are opening up to mental health issues and investing in ways to help workers combat the problems they have with their work and their personal lives.
As construction companies put more focus on mental health issues, workers are finding it easier to open up and get the help they need. But in the construction industry, the process of handling mental health problems has only just begun. The group of companies addressing these issues head-on is small, but it is growing. The only stigma the construction industry is concerned with is the idea that construction work is dangerous for the body and the mind. In time and with more focus, construction companies hope to be able to offer help to the workers who need it before it is too late.