With Suicide Prevention Month now in the rearview, the topics of suicide and mental health nevertheless remain relevant. In a time when we have never been more connected as a society, the rate of personal harm and suicide has never been more prevalent.
The suicide rate for construction workers is among the highest across all industries. In the United States, it’s one of the leading causes of death. According to the CDC, in 2021, 12.3 million adults seriously thought about suicide. The world continues to face multiple challenges and struggles that affect us all. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an unprecedented increase in suicide attempts.
In my role as a regional safety director, my experience with suicide had always been through what I encountered on the job and being on the helping end of those affected, until I had an experience that hit much closer to home.
In 2022, my wife and I received a phone call that any parent fears: Our teenage child attempted to take their own life while in school. An occurrence like this is often unforeseen and hardly predictable. We felt helpless, shutdown, and completely numb following that phone call. Thankfully, this suicide attempt was not fatal, but it proved to be an unknown loud cry for help.
Our lives changed forever from that exact moment forward, and we learned very quickly that there are three main stages that families will go through while coping with this level of trauma:
- The initial trauma itself.
- The aftermath of the trauma that leads to suicide attempts (e.g. depression, anxiety, isolation).
- The road to recovery, including communication, counseling, and getting back on track.
The teen years can be a stressful time. They are filled with major changes. Strong feelings of stress, confusion, fear and doubt that may influence a teen’s problem-solving and decision-making. He or she may also feel pressure to succeed. The same can be true for any adult. Changes, pressures or unexpected struggles in life can cause overwhelming feelings of stress, confusion and helplessness.
Recognition is a large part of my day-to-day. However, recognizing behaviors that hint at suicide is a totally different ballgame. Working with our safety professionals on how to pick up on verbal – and often non-verbal – clues has polished their abilities to go further in providing help, support and mentorship. The part that is sometimes overlooked: anyone, regardless of their role, can do the same to make individuals who are struggling feel comfortable in coming forward to say, “I need help,” without feeling any type of inferiority, fear or embarrassment.
There are a number of individuals within the teams I work with that also have personal experiences with suicide. They, too, have stepped forward to emphasize to others the seriousness and level of support this provides to those experiencing thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Within our own organization, we have all too often come across behaviors that veer toward self-harm. As a result of what my wife and I witnessed and went through with our child, it hit home in a completely different way. The ability to separate yourself and be there for the person suffering is among one of the most important things you can do for that individual. For those who, like me and my family, have been impacted in a personal way, finding community and connections of support is critical.
Going through my own experience with my family taught me how to better recognize the signs in someone’s behavior heading in the wrong direction and helped me in knowing how to best approach and take action – it’s a lot easier when you can see the signs. Reaching out to external resources and other forms of support and guidance can go far in helping yourself and others.