Earlier this year, my husband and I had the opportunity to visit the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both Billy Graham, one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century, and his wife Ruth, are buried there. Billy Graham had the remarkable ability to treat everyone with love and respect, irrespective of how they treated him, even when it was a member of his own family who went astray. Graham touched so many lives through the years, including Presidents from both sides of the aisle.
Life happens to all of us. It is often unfair, and not everyone is able to distinguish their personal and professional lives. This is because we are designed as one being of body and soul, both of which experience everything together. You may try to suppress your feelings and experiences and “suck up” whatever you are going through. But like a sponge that keeps wiping up, it will eventually start to drip.
When someone in the workplace is responding in a hostile (antagonistic, aggressive, intimidating, unfriendly, unreceptive) way, how you respond can make or break not only your future working relationship, but possibly even change or save their life. Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week. According to the National Psychiatric Association, there has been a 30% increase in suicide rates in the past decade, and in the most recent report, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States. It was the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages 10 and 34, and the fourth-leading cause among people between the ages 35 and 54.
In June of this year, OSHA launched a suicide prevention hotline for construction. The announcement page connecting to the site opens with a statement to the effect that according to a 2016 study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the construction industry sadly ranks first in total suicides, and second in suicide rate compared to all other industries in the United States. Personally, I have heard of two suicides on jobsites right here in our backyard this year, so I know the statistics are real.
Those of us in the construction industry are wired to move the ball forward and fix things.
The construction process itself works best with little small talk and tremendous focus on “getting it done” per contract requirements. It does not come naturally for most of us in personal or professional life to tune into possible signs of someone’s emotional state du jour. So how can we be more aware? And what are some of the things in our industry that can cause someone to want to end his life?
CFMA has many resources on the subject, including an article entitled, “The known CONTRIBUTING FACTORS FOR SUICIDE”, which notes that many aspects of working in construction create a “PERFECT STORM” OF RISK:
- “TOUGH GUY” culture of fearlessness, stoicism, and recklessness
- HIGH-PRESSURE environment of schedule, budget, and quality performance with POTENTIAL FOR FAILURE and resulting SHAME/HUMILIATION
- Exposure to PHYSICAL STRAIN or PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA
- Prevalence of ALCOHOL and SUBSTANCE ABUSE
- Reassignment and TRAVEL TO REMOTE PROJECTS creating SEPARATION FROM FAMILY and FRIENDS
- SEASONAL EMPLOYMENT leading to a FRAGMENTED COMMUNITY and ISOLATION
- CHRONIC PAIN from years of hard, physical, and manual labor
- Industry with the associated HIGHEST incidence of PRESCRIPTION OPIOID USE
- SLEEP DISRUPTION due to construction work schedules and rotating shifts
- LACK of access to MENTAL HEALTH CARE and LOW UTILIZATION of EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS (EAPS)
- STIGMA of MENTAL ILLNESS
- ACCESS to LETHAL means like PILLS and FIREARMS
Billy Graham is not someone you would think of as a “tough guy”, but he was fearless, stoic and reckless. He traveled to many foreign countries where persecution of Christians was common practice. He won them over with his kind and accepting, ways. He spent weeks away from his family and had to trust in their well-being.
A friend of ours once said that when he would go through things with family, friends, associates that were hostile he would apply Billy Graham’s advice to “Love them More”, and look at how we can meet them where they are and listen.
If you suspect someone is struggling in your workplace, care enough about him or her to at least make a call to get them help. It is better to be safe than sorry.