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Construction Suicide

Written by: Stephanie Larsen, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

A new way to think about and address the rising suicides in the construction industry.


A few months ago my brother asked me if I knew that construction workers had some of the highest suicide rates. Apparently, the data we collect on mental health statistics within that subset of the population was reflecting an issue of unaddressed needs and major areas of concern.

What is getting particular attention are the suicide rates. That is enough to ask mental health professionals to come in and speak on the state of mental health, educate on suicide statistics and suicide prevention (usually through power points describing and defining mental health terms), and requesting that employees talk to someone about their “issues.” In other words, we’ve identified the problem, then we go in and speak to the problem, and hope it gets better.


Education is always a great strategy, and anything is better than nothing, but when there are significant barriers to treatment in a population like stigma and the way we as a society have raised males to deal with their emotions, I worry that our current way of tackling and conceptualizing this issue is not enough, or maybe just not the most impactful. When someone comes in my office suicidal I don’t start educating them on suicide and my markers of growth or movement aren’t primarily to decrease the frequency of those thoughts.


Suicide is the next level of dissociation when drinking, drug use, over-eating, watching TV, over sleeping, and scrolling your phone are no longer enough to numb out and leave the mind and body. Perhaps the most frequent thought I hear expressed around suicide is, ‘it would just be easier if I wasn’t around.” The person in this moment is expressing a wish to escape what feels insurmountable and exhausting. A wish to have relief, much in the same way they are likely already seeking relief through the various tactics listed above. If the person is not seeking relief they are likely distracting themselves by over working and accomplishing tasks. This is especially easy for the male population, particularly older generations and for those in trade/labor intensive industries like construction, who largely have been taught that their role in society is to serve a function or provide, not to be related to.


Then we go in and tell them they have a new function or task – to take care of themselves, to not want to kill themselves. The problem with this strategy being effective is that suicide isn’t just about escaping our problems, it also stems from not feeling good enough or worthwhile. When you think about it like that we are asking these men to essentially solve a problem that they don’t think is worthwhile solving. It is also important to note the dissociative and distracting tactics I discussed earlier are well patterned in the brain neurologically and are rewarded with dopamine; meaning the drive to seek relief these ways are strong. Therefore, the pull to avoid problems is strong and the motivation to solve an unworthy problem is low. So maybe the best way to market help is not to talk so much about what they need to fix, but what they could gain, while providing education about why they are doing what they are doing. The best relief someone can have isn’t avoidance, but rather understanding what has happened to them. The avoidance tactics while momentarily relieving, are ultimately exhausting because you need to keep doing them and they ultimately provide no nutritional value for your mind or body. Living in avoidance is exhausting, lacking purpose and meaning, and maybe most importantly it’s lonely, a deadly combination.


I am proposing to teach men to connect to themselves by us connecting to them and walk them through what has happened to make them suicidal. We destigmatize these issues by explaining the neuroscience in the brain and help them understand why they are having these thoughts and what it actually means. We help make sense of their life and what has happened to them in a way that depersonalizes these issues and therefore releases shame, another huge barrier to getting help. We help them understand that sex is so important to them as a means of connection because the mixture of being raised to exist in a functional relationship in addition to not feeling, vocalizing or releasing emotions leaves them feeling lonely-our biggest killer. That the nature of their jobs putting strain on relationships in addition their lacking blueprint for relationships is actually one of the major barriers to a better and more connected, flourishing and resilient intimate life. There is tremendous research on the health and healing benefits of physical touch. Sadly one of the easiest, least expensive, and mutual forms of healing likely go unused in these couples.


One man I worked with told me, “They taught me my whole life to be a rock, and then one day they asked me to not be a rock. The problem is I don’t know how to not be a rock.” We help men not be rocks by relating to them and helping them understand they were trained that way, and there is actually nothing wrong with them at all. They are capable of learning to live life in a way that is so much more than providing functions to their families and jobs. A life that is worth living.


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Stephanie Larsen, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Stephanie Larsen is a seasoned psychotherapist, sex therapist, yoga instructor, and workplace coach. Her mission is to breakdown difficult to understand relational and psychological dynamics to lead people through transformative change in themselves, their relationships, and their workplace culture. She is not just interested in providing relief but transformative change by understanding yourself and the patterning you carry, but also how you bring that patterning into personal and professional relationships. She started out working and training at Alexian Brothers, then created and ran a wellness program for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, advanced sexual training through the University of Michigan, had amazing supervisors and mentorship opportunities, and currently owns and runs a private practice outside Milwaukee WI. Stephanie contracts with local businesses to provide insight and mentorship into interpersonal workplace dynamics. She will guest speak on podcasts like Good Explanations and is highly sought out for individual and couples work in her community.

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