While representing sheet metal and HVAC contactors at meetings of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP), I was fortunate to work with representatives from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One primary area of focus for both CIASP and SAMSHA is suicide prevention but there are other facets of the topic that affect workers including mental health and substance abuse (misuse). Prevention is a very important part of these issues, and these organizations have numerous related resources (see list at the end of this article). However, it is also important to understand and appreciate the aftermath of these concerns.
One project we worked on was establishing a “988” three-digit phone code for mental health and substance abuse emergencies which became available in the USA as of July 2022. Like the current “911” for fire, police and medical emergencies, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. This initiative and phone code is a welcome addition to the resources available to those in need. Please share this 988 lifeline information with your family, friends, and co-workers.
Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as provided on the CIASP website, construction occupations have the highest rate of suicide, as well as the highest number of suicides across all occupational groups. These statements should get your attention if you are in the construction industry. Stressed mental health and/or substance abuse often play a part in these tragic events.
Sheet metal and HVAC contracting companies can play a vital role in addressing these issues since the workplace often presents some of the risk factors involved such as project schedule pressures, physical demands of the job, injuries and injury treatments such as pain medication, travel and irregular shift work, and bullying along with machismo attitudes.
Recovery (and prevention) can be promoted through a caring corporate culture. Much like a successful safety culture, companies can assist workers in addressing mental health and substance issues by having an “open door policy” for these issues and promoting the support program(s) available to workers such as employee assistance programs (EAPs) and the resources from related organizations as well as unions and insurance carriers.
Employers are often in the best position to identify and assist individuals in need of help. Supervisors can be trained to look for signs of a troubled person including when workers arrive late for work, make atypical mistakes, have close calls or “near hits” for injuries, seem out of touch, don’t communicate as usual, have unusual conflicts with other workers, etc.
September is National Recovery Month. According to the SAMSHA website, “National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) is a national observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.”
SAMSHA is still a partner in Recovery Month but Faces and Voices of Recovery is now the leader in sponsoring this observance and related webpage. As presented on the Recovery Month webpage, “Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery from substance use and mental health, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart disease. Each September, Recovery Month works to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.”
CIASP resources include training through their “LivingWorks” program, toolbox talks on a variety of topics and taking the pledge to be involved though the “Stand Up for Suicide Prevention” program, educational and event opportunities, and other helpful information.
It is important to address mental health and substance abuse issues upfront and not hide behind the stigma often associated with these topics. A caring culture to address these issues and assist workers in the prevention and recovery stages shows everyone involved that the company has compassion for all workers and “is here to help.”