Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in men in the construction industry, with the highest rates occurring between ages 40 and 59. The good news is, suicides are preventable.

Vancouver Regional Construction Association partnered with the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance to host a breakfast seminar on Feb. 6 exploring mental health in the construction industry.

Shea Emry, a former Canadian Football League player and men’s mental health advocate, opened the session by explaining the expectation he put on himself to be the alpha male in every social interaction in his life from the age of five onwards.

When he suffered a concussion in 2011 that put him out for the remainder of the football season, the then 25-year-old found himself battling his internal demons. It often sent him into periods of dark depression that he didn’t fully understand.

Emry grew up in a sports family “surrounded by formidable, stoic men” and that’s how he believed he should be, which lead him to suppress his emotions. Football was his way of coping and a vehicle to let his aggression out. It wasn’t until he started talking to a therapist following the concussion that he began to see things differently.

Today, the founder of three initiatives aimed at helping to redefine masculinity and manhood – Wellmen Adventures, Axewood Axe Throwing and Timberfit Bootcamps – tells everyone that “we need to let people use their voices.”

VRCA member Scott Construction Group established a mental health committee in fall 2016 after the prevalence of mental health issues was raised at its joint occupational health & safety committee.

In establishing its mental health committee, Scott Construction opted for a “complete solution” available from The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). Entitled “Not Myself Today,” CMHA’s program is one example of a ready-to-use program to help an organization navigate setting up their committee.

The goal of Scott Construction’s committee is to increase awareness and education, remove the stigma surrounding mental health and provide resources to those who need help. The committee is not an internal resource for diagnosis, identification or counselling.

Donna Grant, Scott Construction’s marketing manager, discussed how they learned that suicides are preventable and that it’s OK to talk about suicide.

“Asking doesn’t provoke the act,” Grant said. “Asking can reduce anxiety and help people feel understood.”

If you suspect someone may be depressed and thinking about suicide, some of the critical warning signs include:

• Being dramatically happier – when someone has made the decision to commit suicide, they often feel that a weight has been lifted because they can see their way out;
• Giving prized possessions away;
• Putting their affairs in order;
• Joking or talking about suicide, especially when under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and
• Having access to weapons or seeking methods to commit suicide.

What should you do if you suspect someone might be considering suicide? Here are 10 actions you can take:

1. Be direct – ask the person if they are thinking of suicide. If yes, do they have a plan and timeline?
2. Ask if they been drinking or taking any drugs or medications.
3. Don’t judge them.
4. Don’t minimize their feelings.
5. Don’t use clichés or try to debate them.
6. Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek out the support of appropriate professionals.
7. Ask who can be contacted that they feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
8. In an acute crisis, take them to an emergency room or walk-in clinic or call 911.
9. Do not leave them alone.
10. Remove any obvious means (e.g., firearms, drugs, sharp objects) from them.