By Mona Weiss, Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist, BWC Division of Safety & Hygiene
If you’ve never experienced a late-night emergency phone call, I can tell you from my experience, over twenty years ago, it’s something one won’t soon forget. Sadly, we’ve all likely had at least one of “those kinds of calls.” Mine came from my mother, almost exactly 20 years ago today. The shaking in her voice came through on the crackling landline, “we’re at the hospital. It’s bad, Mona. Ryan has shot himself.”
Ryan was my 22-year-old nephew. I’d changed his diapers. Swung him on a swing. Watched him breathe life into dead engines when he was but 14. Ryan had gone on to become a star football player in high school and was closely watched by university recruiters. How could we have known then that Ryan’s glorious days of reliably making touchdowns were going to be some of his last? If only we’d had a crystal ball…
Fast forward to last fall, when the topic of suicide was brought up by Greg Burkhart, Director of Safety and Training for the Associated General Contractors of Northwest Ohio (AGCNWO) at a monthly safety meeting. I instantly sat up taller in my chair. Are we really going to talk about this? Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 20 years since Ryan’s death, it’s that it’s taboo to talk about this! Team Chair Burkhart said that suicide statistics in construction had been covered at their national conference, and that the AGCNWO was looking at forming a committee to develop suicide-related support and resources for the local construction community. No voluntold necessary! I leaped right in!
The AGCNWO generously provided all resources, the team chair, and the forum within which our team was to work. They also reallocated time from their in-house marketing expert to develop a logo, website, content, print, and more to help spread the word. Our first mission was to lay out the basics. We faced a few challenges:
- Name the campaign in a way that doesn’t alienate the audience.
- Identify and learn to target those who have the most influence on possible at-risk persons within the workforce (such as his or her supervisor).
- Ensure we clarify that we are not a suicide prevention counseling service, but rather a collection of resources to assist those in need.
- Most important how do we get the attention of the victim, a person who would generally like to avoid this topic? Through his or her supervisor? Maybe his or her family? Remember, it’s “taboo to talk about!”
As we brainstormed, we found the suicide victim numbers staggering! We learned that an estimated 5,500 construction workers take their lives annually, and that construction is the second-highest industry for suicides. Over the course of our project development, we grew hungry to learn more, and to uncover the mysteries behind the causes of suicide. In response, the AGCNWO secured some of the top experts in suicide and mental health as team meeting presenters.
These efforts resulted in the 2 Tuff 2 Talk campaign. In addition to the website, several electronic billboards with related messaging have been posted in the Toledo area. Hard hat stickers and larger signs for posting on employee message boards and at worksites will be released soon.
While suicide is perhaps not a pleasant topic, it’s especially important at this time of higher stress and changed working conditions. If you are among those who have lost a loved one to suicide, or if you know someone who seems to be in a difficult situation, even if they don’t work in the construction industry, you may find the resources below helpful. Meanwhile, I want to thank the AGCNWO for their passionate commitment to assisting in suicide prevention in the construction industry, and for sponsoring our team!
If you are having suicidal thoughts or feelings call 1-800-720-9616 for confidential support from a behavioral health professional.
- 2 Tuff 2 Talk: Suicide Prevention in Construction
- 2 Tuff 2 Talk: Mental Health in Construction Podcast
- Associated General Contractors of America, Missouri Chapter page on Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry The Ohio State University Suicide Prevention Program
- Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation
- Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation: Lucas County
- Construction Financial Management Association: Suicide Prevention Is a Safety & Health Priority in Construction
- CPWR | Suicide Prevention Resources
- Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Suicide Prevention
- Ohio CareLine