The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) has launched a campaign to help combat the high rates of suicide and substance use disorder among employees of construction companies. As workers face numerous job-related challenges, including setbacks from physical injuries, those conditions and the need to get back on the job put them at risk of considering suicide or using medications like opioids. Those drug uses can lead to addiction and substance use disorder, officials for the IUPAT suggest. The goal of IUPAT Helping Hand is to raise awareness for suicide and substance use related issues and to provide resources to trade workers.

Meanwhile, substance use disorder isn’t the only hardship working families face. A November 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that male construction workers have the highest rate of suicide in the U.S. Other studies show similar results for Canadian workers. The data shows that construction workers are three times more likely to take their own life than other segments of the population.

A couple of years ago, the Painters and Allied Trades for Children’s Hope Foundation, a charity organization founded by the IUPAT, launched an initiative with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to raise awareness of how we can all play a part in suicide prevention,” says Anton Ruesing, director of the International Finishing Trades Institute (FTI). “This was not only in response to a growing number of reports in the media about how prevalent suicide is in the construction industry, but also to the story one of our contractors shared with us about losing his son to suicide in 2009.”

Since then, Ruesing says, that contractor has worked as an advocate for NAMI.

Ruesing says that story, coupled with information about how the growing opioid epidemic is taking its toll on the construction workforce, moved IUPAT general president Ken Rigmaiden to direct the FTI staff to create resources and curriculum for helping its members, their families and anyone else who is suffering from substance use disorders or thoughts of suicide.

We want workers, their friends and family to recognize the symptoms of mental health disorders and [to] have access to resources for help,” says Rigmaiden. “We’re proactively dealing with the problems in our industry that are taking a terrible toll on our workers. Workers who are suffering from depression or other mental health problems, as well as substance use disorder, need to know that there is help available and we will always support them.”

Resources on the site include:

  • Phone numbers for the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Services Canada Helpline;
  • A list of behaviors that may indicate serious risk for suicide;
  • Warning signs of substance use disorder;
  • Contact information for mental illness helplines and therapy organizations; and
  • Downloadable materials about suicide prevention and substance use disorder.

In addition to the resources available on the IUPAT website, the FTI has also created curriculums labeled “Change the Culture of Construction,” which train IUPAT members from its district councils to educate members and provide pathways to treatment.

We literally do have to change the culture of construction when it comes to these issues and others,” says Ruesing. “Men in construction, especially, typically have a ‘tough guy’ mentality, he adds, which, “often prevents them from seeking help if they need it, and from reaching out to someone to see if they need help.”

That mentality has to change, not only in the workforce, but with the employers as well, he says.

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