Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA), says there is a “tsunami” of mental wellness issues facing the construction industry. With Thursday, Sept. 1, marking the beginning of Suicide Prevention Month, the industry continues to highlight and address factors contributing to the somber statistics surrounding construction and suicide.
The Construction Industry Alliance notes several factors that play into the suicide rate in the construction industry. That includes construction being a male-dominated industry, as such industries tend to have more suicides. Many veterans also choose construction as a career, with that group of Americans already at a greater risk of suicide than the population at large at an estimated 22 suicides per day.
“Layoffs due to seasonal work or economic downturns can have significant consequences. Not only does this increase the stress related to loss of income, but job loss also means employees may lose medical benefits and/or access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs),” the alliance writes. “Not to mention, the physical demands of construction work take a toll on the body and can cause physical or even chronic pain, which may lead to self-medication (with drugs, alcohol or opioids). Opioid abuse is linked to an increased likelihood of a suicide attempt.”
Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, says opioids are no small factor in the conversation about mental health and suicide. Based on a 2018 study conducted at a Michigan emergency room, it’s estimated that up to 30% of opioid overdoses occur in instances where the individual reports not caring about the risks or being unsure of their intentions.
According to the Center for Construction Research and Training, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the construction industry has one of the highest injury rates in the U.S. Those with occupational injuries often receive opioid prescriptions to treat the pain caused by those injuries. Studies conducted in Massachusetts and Ohio showed that those in the construction industry were seven times more likely to die of opioid-related overdoses than the average worker.
Gardner told participants of the 2022 Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance (FGIA) Virtual Summer Conference that 55% of people who are employed and die of an opioid overdose in British Columbia are in some way connected to the construction industry. The CDC reported nearly 70,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2020, a 36% increase over the previous year.
“When a mental wellness challenge emerges, these challenges run silent and they run deep,” Gardner says. “There’s a stigma where people feel awkward or embarrassed. But when they surface, the consequences are often tragic for the individual, their families, their colleagues and for their community. The worst thing that can happen on any jobsite is a death and it’s particularly tragic when someone takes their own life.”
Monday, Sept. 5 is the beginning of Construction Suicide Prevention Week. For more information and access to resources for both employers and employees, go to the Construction Suicide Prevention Week website. There, companies can also register to participate in the week of awareness.
“Every year, during September — National Suicide Prevention Month — the construction industry will dedicate a week to raising awareness about the unique challenges workers face in construction that led to suicide and what we can do to prevent it,” the website reads. “Together, we can save lives.”
For more information and access to resources, follow the links above. For immediate assistance, contact the three-digit dialing code 988 or go to https://988lifeline.org/chat/