“Pay attention to somebody who acts anxious, agitated
or reckless, or if they’re increasing drug or alcohol use – they
may be self-medicating,” said Walker. “If someone is talking
about feeling trapped, wanting to die, being a burden, feel-ing
hopeless – using those words is not normal for someone
to talk about.”
A person at risk may appear sad or depressed most of the
time or they may seem to experience extreme mood swings
from day to day. They might withdraw from groups and not
want to be connected to other people.
“These are more personal, but there are also definite
signs in the workplace that get misinterpreted as perfor-mance
issues,” said Walker.
Changed behaviours such as a decrease in problem-solving
ability, decreased self-confidence or productivity, or
an increase in absences or tardiness might indicate an issue.
Starting conflicts with co-workers or a change in safety per-formance
with more frequent near-miss accidents or injuries
could be a warning sign.
“At least the question should be asked, ‘We’ve noticed
these things, is something going on?’” said Walker. “You
can see the danger in just addressing this with disciplin-ary
action; ask somebody what’s causing the change in
This is your problem
“If you think that you don’t have a problem with suicide or
mental health in your workplace, you’re probably wrong –
you just don’t know about it,” said Walker. “With any other
safety practice, we’re not reactive; we don’t wait until some-body
dies or is severely injured to start putting safety prac-tices
into place. Just like we take the preventative approach
when it comes to physical safety, we need to take that pre-ventative
approach with mental health, as well.”
She also points out that beyond being a workforce issue,
suicide is a societal issue that can indirectly affect businesses.
“It may not be somebody in your workplace at risk of
suicide, but maybe it’s their kid, spouse or friend,” she said.
“By training our workforce, we can become part of the big-ger
societal shift in addressing this. If your employee’s son
or daughter, for example, dies by suicide and they could have
helped prevent it, that’s going to affect their ability to be a
productive employee, and it’s going to increase their risk of
suicide.” According to research, people who lose a loved one
to suicide are twice as likely to die by suicide themselves.
Start talking about it
Talking about suicide can be awkward or uncomfortable at
first, but it’s important for companies to persist in order to
normalize the conversation and begin breaking down the
stigma attached to topics surrounding mental health.
“You become more comfortable the more times you hear
something – it’s less shocking, less frightening,” said Walker.
To begin normalizing the topic in the workplace, include it
in as many different sources as possible.
“Every safety meeting that we have, it’s talked about in
some way or another so that our employees are hearing
the message consistently,” said Walker.
Hang posters, use company newsletters or other internal
communications and have a toolbox talk about suicide and
“We mention mental health in our new hire safety
training video, so from the first new hire orientation and
onwards, employees are seeing it,” said Walker. “When we
talk about benefits, we point out the behavioural health care
that’s accessible to normalize using it like you access any
other health care.”
Getting employees comfortable about having these con-versations
and then educating about warning signs are
important first steps to preventing suicide in the construction
industry. Learning to recognize warning signs will empower
employees to step in.
“If somebody is being unsafe or if there’s an unsafe con-dition
on a job site, employees are empowered, encouraged
and even required to make sure that work stops until that
risk is addressed,” said Walker. “Just like that, they need to
be empowered if they think that somebody is at risk of hurt-ing
themselves that they need to step up and get that person
connected with help.”
Company leadership has an integral role to play, as well.
“Having vocal leadership support saying that this is a
required attitude shift is critical,” said Walker. Company
leadership needs to display, through words and actions, that
workers can feel safe asking for support for themselves or
“Make sure they know that they’re not going to get pun-ished
if they need to take a day off to see a counsellor or if
they ask for some accommodation because of a mental health
concern or family crisis situation,” said Walker. “Help them
know that support is there and have policies that are tolerant
of that so people aren’t afraid of losing their job or getting
someone else’s job in trouble if they say, ‘Hey, I think that he
might have trouble with drinking or drugs.’”
Just like with any safety culture, leadership support is
required. From there, integrate the conversation into differ-ent
workplace elements so that it becomes normal.
Walker believes that the construction industry will be
able to address suicide prevention in its workforce due to its
already established focus on safety.
MENTA L H E A LT H
The construction industry suicide rate is four times that of the
general population zephyr18/123RF