In observance of World Suicide Prevention Day, it is important to discuss a lesser-known issue within the EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) industry. In comparison with other industries, the EPC industry has one of the highest rates of suicide. While physical safety has long been at the forefront and much has been done to prevent workplace incidents, total human health, specifically mental well-being, requires additional attention.
In this podcast, Adrienne Keyes, global manager of health and medical services has a conversation with Sam Lyon, global workforce services manager to:
- Raise suicide awareness in the EPC industry
- Share how you can recognize warning signs
- Create hope through action by initiating a conversation
Introduction: Ashley Merriman (AM)
Speaker: Adrienne Keyes (AK)
Speaker: Sam Lyon (SL)
AM: In observance of World Suicide Prevention Day, we’d like to take the time to discuss a lesser-known issue within the EPC industry. While physical safety has long been at the forefront and much has been done to prevent workplace incidents, total human health and more specifically mental well-being requires additional attention.
In this podcast Bechtel’s Adrienne Keyes and Sam Lyon discuss suicide in the EPC industry and share ways in which we can help those in need.
AK: Hi, my name is Adrienne Keyes. I'm the global manager of health and medical services for Bechtel Corporation, and I form part of the environmental, safety, and health team. The majority of my role is overseeing any aspects of health and medical services for the enterprise.
SL: Hi, I'm Sam Lyon. I am Bechtel’s global workforce services manager. Our organization administers the policies and procedures that apply to our craft professionals all over the globe, similar to what HR does for our non-manual population.
AK: The purpose of this podcast today is to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day, and the purpose for [World Suicide Prevention Day] is to promote worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides across the world. According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. There are indications, as well, that for each adult who dies by suicide, there may be more than twenty others attempting suicide at the same time. The International Association of Suicide Prevention has said that one in every hundred deaths globally is due to suicide and [that suicide] accounts for 1.3% of all deaths worldwide. That makes suicide the 17th leading cause of death in 2019.
It definitely is time to raise awareness on this stigmatized and often taboo topic. In addition to shifting public perception, we need to use this time and the day to spread hope and vital information to people affected by suicide. The goal should be ensuring that individuals, friends, and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and to seek help.
Some of the warning signs of suicide are things like:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from family and community and friends
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Collecting and saving bills
- Buying a weapon
- Giving away possessions
- Tying up loose ends, like organizing, for example, personal papers or paying off debts; and,
- Saying goodbye for friends and family.
Suicide behaviors are definitely a psychiatric emergency, so we would ask that if you or a loved one starts to take any of the steps that I've just spoken about that they seek immediate help from a health care provider.
It’s a particular issue and concern in the construction industry globally, the rate of suicide.
SL: It is a great concern in the construction industry, and I'm not sure many are aware, but our industry is among the highest. For example, in the USA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2018 there were 1,008 fatalities in the construction industry, but that same year there was 5,242 suicides by construction workers. And it's a similar scenario in the U.K., in Ireland, and in other countries. Our industry has done a really fantastic job in reducing safety incidents on site. It [has] made great strides in improving the physical health of our employees, putting programs in place to ensure that we're going to be safe physically, but we really need to blend that with improving mental health and [focusing] more on the total human health aspect.
AK: Some of the contributing factors to the suicide rate being so high in construction across the globe can be things like long hours, both working on projects and in offices, deadlines, pressure to perform, working away from home, things like remote, working often in a different country. There could be also contributing factors like bullying or the individual having family issues. The other issue with the construction industry is it really has always been considered a very macho industry, and one of the biggest threats to that is the stigma around mental health and suicide in general. And the question is why is stigma so damaging? Well, the thing is that stigma does not promote a healthy recovery. In a study that was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, it's states that 83% of participants felt conscious of the stigma associated with mental illness and had difficulty seeking help. Only about 54% of the participants had discussed their suicidal thoughts with their family, peers, and spouses.
Stigma also very definitely negatively affects treatment outcomes. The perceived stigma can affect feelings of shame and can lead to poor treatment outcomes and that has come from Psychology Today. The stigma also negatively affects the perception of self and others. Those with depression and schizophrenia, for example, were viewed as unpredictable and dangerous, and those people would probably be less likely to be employed.
SL: There really is, I think, an opportunity here for us and for all contractors in the construction industry to recognize that there needs to be a call to action. Adrienne mentioned previously that this industry has [historically still today] a bit of a macho stigma and culture, and that has not helped facilitate people coming forward if they have issues like anxiety or other mental health issues. And it hasn't facilitated people that recognize somebody might be struggling [going] up to them, him or her, and just simply [asking] these three simple words, “Are you okay?” That could have a huge effect on that individual.
AK: Going back to what you were saying about asking, “Are you okay?” It's not always easy to keep a conversation going when someone says they're not okay, but it can absolutely change a life. You just need to ask. You need to listen. You need to encourage action and then check in with them again. There are some great resources out there, like RUOK in Australia and Mental Health First Aid International, who can support and provide resources and tools just to start the conversation.
We started in Bechtel training employees as mental health first aiders, and we actually do have now about three or four mental health first aid instructors within the organization, and it's something that we're going to be continuing to do. Because “Are you okay,” literally, could save someone's life just by asking those three words.
SL: We hope that we've raised your awareness today on the issue of suicide, particularly in the construction industry. It is a very real concern. It's a concern that is more and more recognized, but still not widely enough recognized, and we want to do our part and we ask you to do your part to understand that this is an issue that needs additional attention and additional awareness. We encourage everybody here and all the leaders and all our employees to learn to recognize the signs, to feel comfortable about asking those three simple words. There are a number of resources out there available for those that have mental health struggles and that need assistance.
AK: We have so much opportunity going forward in the future to be looking at mental health the same way we do safety on all our projects and in our execution offices. The International Association of Suicide Prevention has got some great resources out for 2021 for September the 10th that, again, all our employees and their families will have access to. There is definitely help out there for people that need it, and it is really important going forward that we create hope through action and we be the light for people.
If you or someone you know may be struggling, you are strongly encouraged to use the resources below.
Free emotional support, wherever you are, find a helpline: https://findahelpline.com/i/iasp
National suicide prevention lifeline: 800-273-8255
For Bechtel employees: Bechtel offers the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through Cigna. All employees on Bechtel's payroll, their dependents, and their immediate household members are eligible for EAP benefits — at no cost to you.