What do Farmers, Construction Workers, and Police Officers Have in Common?

Families for Depression Awareness

Unfortunately, higher rates of suicide than many other occupations. Workplace mental health programs can help.

Working in construction can be hazardous to your health: the physical dangers alone resulted in 937 construction-related work fatalities in 2015, accounting for more than 20% of worker fatalities in private industry that year. But another cause for fatalities also disproportionately affects the construction industry. According to the most recent data available, construction and extraction occupations also carry the second-highest rate of suicide deaths for men, accounting for more than 13% of the male suicides in the study. The other occupations at highest suicide risk for men include farming, fishing, and forestry; installation, maintenance, and repair; and production.

For women, the three occupational groups with the highest rates of suicide are protective service (i.e., police officer, firefighter, etc.), legal, and healthcare practitioners and technical workers.

Employers have opportunities to help build a mentally-healthier workforce and prevent suicides. With several programs available – not only through an employee assistance plan – employers can support the factors that protect against suicide risk.

In Massachusetts, for example, the Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program contracts with organizations to provide tools and information to workplaces. Families for Depression Awareness’ “Coping with Stress and Depression” training offers stress management techniques and depression education through on-site workshops and webinars. Screening for Mental Health has confidential online mental health screenings that can be customized for an employer. Other programs target specific professions, such as for police officers and other first responders. The Department also funds MassMen.org, which offers information and resources in a “man-friendly” way.

The Right Direction Initiative from the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health and Employers Health addresses the stigma of depression, encourages help-seeking, and has additional tools for employers to better address mental health issues in the workplace.

There are plenty of examples and information about successful programs to support mental health in the workplace. SAMHSA offers a first step with A Mental Health Friendly Workplace. Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio has written several articles for Care for Your Mind about the approach to mental health at Prudential. One Huffington Post article shares eight keys to success and Fast Company offers advice.

Modern Farmer reported on the suicide risk for farming, fishing, and forestry and offered a number of factors that likely contribute to the high rate. And Grist asked the essential question: how can we stop farmer suicides? Rural behavioral health has not received a great deal of attention and, because of the barriers to care for physical and behavioral health, some argue that the population of farmers should be classified as a health disparity group. The National Association for Rural Mental Health is working to address these issues.

So what about the construction industry? Construction leaders took note, developing the Construction Industry Blueprint for Suicide Prevention (download) and forming the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention. There is hope for construction workers and for all workers, and employers can take the lead.

Your Turn

  • Which occupations seem to have high rates of suicide in your community?
  • What have your employers done to address mental health and wellness in your workplace (or, if you are an employer, what have you been able to implement) and what was your experience?

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