The construction industry is facing an alarming problem: a staggering suicide rate.
According to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more male construction workers take their lives than any other industry.
"We have an industry that is loaded with what I would call alpha males," said Chris Brennan, business representative of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in Boston.
"When someone kills themselves, that's it, it's over. And it's a scary subject for people, so we need to do a better job of understanding of what was going on and the darkness," Brennan said.
"They’re supposed to be tough men and women who can deal with pain and challenges that other folks maybe can’t deal with," said Steve Mongeau, the executive director of Samaritans, a suicide prevention center in Boston.
Mongeau blames several factors. They include a competitive, high-pressure environment, a higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, separation from families and long stretches without work.
"That inconsistency can lend itself to some concerns, self-doubts, possible worry, possible issues in other areas that could lead you to become somewhat despondent and consider suicide as an option," Mongeau said.
The CDC stresses that suicide prevention on the construction site is critical because it's where many workers spend most of their time.
Friends and family can help spot and prevent suicide, too. Some of the signs to watch out for are increased tardiness and absenteeism, decreased productivity and self-confidence, isolation from co-workers and agitation and increased conflict among co-workers.
One of the ways the construction industry has responded to the alarming rate of worker suicides is through the creation of the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Chairman Michelle Walker said the organization's goal is simple but critical: to raise awareness.
"There’s a huge portion of the construction population and construction business owners and leaders that are simply unaware of the fact that this is an issue in the industry," Walker said.
That's why Brennan is developing a program that will give local workers the tools they need to build a better support system. He believes the peer-to-peer approach could mean the difference between life or death.
"We’re just trying to draw those people out, draw them out, say, 'Hey, come on out to the light, and we’ll get better, we’ll get better together," Brennan said.
If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK.
It is staffed 24 hours per day.