The CDC consistently ranks construction as one of the top two industries with the most suicide deaths.
DENVER — A conference room in Denver on Wednesday was full of people hoping to save their colleagues from dying.
At the first national conference of its kind, the Top of the mind at work in construction brought together construction industry leaders to work on addressing their mental health issues.
“When I started in the construction industry, we didn’t talk about mental health issues. You know, it’s a very macho industry,” said Jerry Shupe, director of safety and health at Hensel Phelps, a construction company headquartered in Greeley with offices across the country.
According to the summit, 1,000 construction workers die on the job every year, but every year 5,000 also die by suicide.
“The first quote I heard was that when you start talking about it, you’re going to start hearing about it,” Shupe said. “And within two weeks of my first training, I was actually helping someone who had a mental health issue.”
Hensel Phelps is now training employees on the signs and symptoms of a mental health crisis so they can become a bridge to Resources.
The company began this training five years ago when it learned from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that men working in construction have a suicide rate about four times higher than the general population.
“I’m not surprised, it’s a stressful job,” said Jose Ballejo, who started working in construction after his army career.
Ballejo cites high-pressure situations in construction jobs as one of the reasons workers begin to internalize stress and bring it home.
Experts have found contributing factors to suicide in the construction industry include occupational exposure to physical trauma, chronic pain, and travel away from family and friends for work, among others.
“Before I started this training, I didn’t know how to handle it,” Ballejo said. “I know how to ask them for help now. Before, I was a guy who was like, ‘Well, how can I solve this problem? We can’t solve this problem, I’m not trained, I I’m not a professional. I can’t fix it.’ I have to be able to at least know where to send them.”
People who attended the summit will not become mental health experts after this training, but they will come away with a new idea of what “macho” really means in the construction industry.
“As soon as you change that mentality, it will start to improve, I think,” Ballejo said.
If you or someone you know has mental health issues, you can contact Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-8255. You can also text the word “talk” to 38255.
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