September is Suicide Prevention Month. In both Utah and the U.S., suicide rates continue to be much higher among men.
According to a report put out by Orem-based Avetta, the U.S. male-dominated industries in which men experience the highest rates of suicide are farming, fishing and forestry; construction and extraction; installation, maintenance and repair; production; and architecture and engineering.
Avetta issued the report this month to raise awareness around male mental health in the workplace. Avetta, a global supply chain risk management company, specializes in using technology to help connect companies and organizations with thoroughly vetted and qualified suppliers, contractors and vendors, so a report on mental health may not seem like it falls under the umbrella of global supply chain risk management. However, Richard Parke, senior vice president of supplier services, begs to differ.
“What we exist for is to be able to reduce risk, and be able to prevent human tragedy in the industrial workplace,” Parke said. “We have to be able to help reduce the level of accidents, reduce fatalities, to overall create a safer, more sustainable workplace.”
Often the focus is on physical risks, Parke said, and companies can lose track of the mental health side of workplace safety, which he said is just as important.
“And if we don’t continue to focus on and address (mental health safety) ... that can certainly have an impact on human life and take a toll on people from that standpoint, as well as their business,” Parke said.
According to the report, which is available to download on the Avetta website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports men in construction, for example, have a suicide rate of 53 per 100,000, four times higher than the general population.
“We can’t let industry lose sight of the fact that there are physical risks that exist on a job site that have to be looked after carefully and addressed to prevent accidents,” Parke said. “But there’s also the mental health dimension of this. If that’s not paid attention to that will expose a great risk ... there are two sides of this coin, the physical side and the mental health side, and one cannot be properly addressed without looking at the other.”
“Heavy industries” such as construction, Parke said, tend to be places where people tend to ignore more “touchy feely” things, or where mental health is more stigmatized. However, the Avetta report confirms how physical and mental health are tied. A 2014 study confirmed injured construction workers were 45% more likely to be treated for depression than non-injured workers, and the effect of injuries on mental health was higher for men than for women. Conversely, the report found preexisting mental health issues may impact physical safety on the job — for Chinese construction workers, for example, the risk of work-related injuries increased more than double when workers reported depressive symptoms.
Avetta published their report this month to push awareness of mental health in industry workplaces to the forefront of people’s minds, Parke said. He added Avetta intends to continue to stay updated on research into mental health as part of a safe workplace environment. Part of the report is dedicated to teaching employers how to better address male mental health, ideals which Parke said Avetta strives to live up to as well.
The first of eight suggestions is “make a commitment,” demonstrating a commitment to mental health by signing a commitment or statement of intent to address it in the workplace and perhaps designating a “mental health champion” to lead a supporting action plan, and then having the plan and the commitment endorsed by a an executive.
“Stigma continues to be a major barrier, and having a CEO or someone at a high level speak openly about mental health really opens the door for people to feel safe to come forward and get help,” said Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Center for Workplace Mental Health.
Parke said Avetta works to demonstrate its commitment to mental health by letting employees know the company cares about them.
“The employees of our organization are what make us,” Parke said. “The very positive contribution that we make to society as a whole as we make workplaces safer really is because of the efforts of our employees ... we start with that very basic premise that we succeed because of who we are as a group of people.”
When the people in an organization are better taken care of, Parke said, they’re able to make bigger and better contributions to society.
Other suggestions from the report include to “build an approach” by understanding the organization’s obligations to legislation to address mental health and implementing a plan to address mental health issues unique to the workplace; create a positive culture; provide training for managers to recognize when an employee is experience problems; manage mental health by having open dialogue about it; provide proper support by directing employees to appropriate resources; help workers recover and return to work if they have taken a leave of absence for mental health; and continue to refine and improve the approach to mental health.
“We spend so much time at work these days, the stress that we experience here, the interactions, and the associations that we have at work contribute very heavily to our overall mental health,” Parke said. “If we don’t have the right mechanisms in place where we’re spending so much of our time, and where we have so many of our associations, then it can be very difficult to find those things outside of work as well.”
Although Avetta and the report are geared towards mental health in heavy industry workplaces, Parke said the tools apply to any workplace.
“We think it’s important that other organizations, whether large or small, really tune in to the fact that this is something that really can be done to help out,” Parke said. “We want people to understand it doesn’t have to be hard. Taking just a little bit of effort, a little bit of awareness and some planning really can make a big, big difference.”
For companies concerned about the cost of investing in mental health, both Parke and the report said the investment can have the opposite — poor mental health leads to lost productivity, additional sickness absence and higher staff turnover. Sleeplessness caused by stress can also lead to more injuries and accidents in heavy industry. According to the World Economic Forum, a $1 investment in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work.
Raising awareness and empowering people to make a positive difference, Parke said, is the reason behind publishing the male mental health in the workplace report.
“I think most people in these days have been impacted by suicide to one degree or another,” Parke said. “I want to always look for a way that I can support a hopeful environment in which people can get access to the help that they need ... whether you’re a customer of Avetta or not, your ability to have a positive impact on these kinds of things is important to us.”