Improving mental health in the construction industry

08 May 2024

As part of an ongoing mental health focus in 2024, SC&RA unveiled two new support tools at its recent Annual Conference (April 15-19, Austin, Texas). In line with similar efforts growing in effectiveness throughout the industry, one of the tools is a poker-style chip with language on the front and back assuring chip holders they are not alone, and encouraging them to text or dial the 988 national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The second deliverable comprises a 988 Lifeline hard hat sticker – another tool that has seen productive use and positive results since its inception.

SC&RA’s poker-style chip will promote language that assures chip holders they are not alone, and encourages them to text or dial the 988 national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

The aim is to both create and drive awareness while also giving workers in the trades a viable, around-the-clock resource for mental health support. When people call, text or chat with the 988 Lifeline, they are connected to trained crisis counselors who are part of the existing 988 Lifeline network, made up of over 200 local crisis centers. These counselors are trained to provide free and confidential emotional support and crisis counseling to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, and connect them to resources.

In combination with the chips and stickers, SC&RA also unveiled a page on its website designed specifically to provide mental-health-support links to information for individuals, as well as company management.

SC&RA’s commitment to getting as much worthwhile support and awareness as it can out to its member companies, and relatedly, to the larger industry, has been a team effort – with more and more member companies joining the endeavor all the time.

“I think with the trades, these are craft people – men and women – though it’s dominated by men … and over the years, while it’s softened a bit, it’s always been a tough-guy, difficult industry to work in,” noted SC&RA Chair, Scott Bragg (Bragg Companies). “People bust their butts and put their lives on the line a lot – the stigma that you’re soft if you’re struggling mentally, either with your work or personal life, has been hard for people to deal with over the years. But getting this message out – especially through the 988 number – that it’s okay to ask for help, has never been more important.”

In addition to fully supporting SC&RA’s chip and sticker initiative, one thing Bragg Companies is working on through its HR department is figuring out how to work mental health support into its overall health insurance platform for all of its employees. “I personally don’t think we, or our insurance companies, spend enough time, effort or money on developing strong mental health programs. But hopefully this is a productive first step for us.”

He also commended SC&RA for taking the steps to move mental health to the front of the line. “Any time an Association like SC&RA shines a light on a topic as vital to the future of the trades as mental health, it’s going to not only snap everyone to attention, but galvanize the larger collective and dial them in to a common mission.”

Worth every effort

Echoing Bragg, Jeremy Landry (Deep South Crane & Rigging) acknowledged that, “… it has taken a while to shift the industry culture to even report physical injuries, and I think we face the same challenge in mental health.”

That said, Landry doesn’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution to mental health.

“I think it will be different depending on the person and what makes them the most comfortable. The most important step is the first one, and I believe SC&RA has done that. The poker chips and hard hat stickers will be a big step towards awareness. And over the next several years, we’ll have to add more tools.”

In combination with the chips and stickers, SC&RA also unveiled a page on its website designed specifically to provide mental-health-support links to information for individuals, as well as company management.

Louis Juneau (NOVA Permits & Pilot Cars) explained why the compounding effect of mental health challenges can be so destructive. “Stigma can decrease self-esteem, leading to a loss of self-respect, while increasing shame and hopelessness. People with mental illness may be viewed in a negative way, which can lead to discrimination and, in turn, more or longer-lasting mental illness.”

Moreover, noted Dave Merrill (Pahoa Express), “So many people can be affected by one person’s mistake. The jobs our members run can be extremely stressful, and require mental fortitude to be accomplished without incident.”

As a result, said Eddy and Kimberly Kitchen (Kitchen’s Crane & Equipment), “Removing the stigma from mental health in both construction and transportation could mean saving a life and/or saving a family from the emotional trauma of suicide or drug addiction – and is certainly worth every effort.”

The Kitchens believe the success of such efforts is dependent on consistent education, workplace training programs and the development of peer support teams at every level. “These changes can have lasting positive effects for our industry, including a stronger, more productive workforce, more success for companies in our industry, improved industrial output for our country and, certainly, more healthy and happy individuals and families.”

Merrill added, “I think that just starting the discussion will lead to overarching benefits for SC&RA members, and the rest of our industry.”

Giant step

At Buckner HeavyLift Cranes, said Meredith Williams, they’re trying to make mental health, as well as support and awareness, a topic of general conversation – similar to how physical health is universally discussed. “At Buckner, we’ve made efforts to highlight the mental health, counseling, therapy and support services that our company insurance provides,” she indicated. “Increasing awareness that these benefits already exist helps employees know they are there and free to use – to get ahead of any issues. We are also in the process of working on a pilot program to allow our employees to use the money they accrue as part of their safety incentive towards counselling sessions if they elect to do so. Our focus is on how we can help support benefits for employees to take advantage of – to help avoid a crisis.”

Meghan McNally-Wininger (McNally-Nimergood Crane Rentals) sees it the same. “You never know the difference that you can make in someone’s life, and in the lives of those who love and care for them,” she emphasized. “Knowing that someone cares and is there to listen, can make a bad day better. There is a stigma in this industry, and we need to acknowledge that we created that stigma. It’s up to us to do what we can to fix that – and let people know that there is strength in asking for help. It’s not weak to try to better yourself.”

Disarming stigma is something that Matt Rix (ProLift Rigging Co.) and SC&RA Crane & Rigging Group Chair considers a long-time coming across the trades. “For too long, no one has wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Which makes SC&RA’s efforts to build out this conversation so transformative – and we’re glad to be a part of it.”

Rix first remembers hearing about mental health at an SC&RA meeting in 2023. “And then the next meeting, I heard a little more – and people were much more engaged,” he pointed out. “They wanted more information. And the Association is, once again, stepping up. Which is vital – because when an organization as influential as SC&RA makes the effort to break down some of these barriers and open up discussions, it’s a giant step in the name of progress that hopefully spreads throughout the industry as a result.”

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