September 27 is Construction Industry Suicide Prevention Day in both the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.
According to the CDC, construction is one of the top five industries with the highest suicide rates. Construction workers may face mental health stressors such as a high-pressure environment, lack of time in the workplace, deadlines, and physically demanding work.
To combat these stressors and promote employee mental health wellness, Appleton, Wis.-based construction group Boldt Company created an employee-led suicide prevention program. It trains volunteer “gatekeepers” to serve as the first point of contact for any employee with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues and connect them with the appropriate resources.
“In our construction industry, we focus on physical safety, but I think in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, we realized an opportunity to really focus on mental health and mental safety as well,” says John Huggett, vice president of central operations for Boldt Company. and a trained caretaker himself.
He notes that the gatekeeper program is not intended for mental health professionals, but is designed as a peer network that serves as an initial point of contact to not only provide an initial conversation, but also to provide anyone with the help and resources they may need.
According to Huggett, there are 88 guards nationwide across the Boldt company who have been trained through the QPR Institute’s suicide prevention training.
“QPR stands for ‘Ask, Persuade and Refer’. These are the three stages that custodians are trained in to be able to understand and spot the warning signals, to be able to progress through this QPR phase to be able to get from our colleagues assistance and help they need,” he explains.
Guardians can be identified by the purple sticker they wear on headsets, computer terminals, and desks that read “It’s OK to ask me for help”. Huggett says that on the whole, their guardians are those who are willing to listen, have an open door, and are seen as trusted partners. As more employees use the help of gatekeepers, he hopes the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide will decrease while helping to develop a better work culture.
For Huggett, he’s in the construction industry because of his ability to impact and change communities and work closely with people — and the Guardian Program aligns perfectly with that.
“When there is a program that has the ability to positively impact people’s lives, I want to be a part of it. I have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide. We have many of our caretakers who have had a similar experience and those who have had this experience want to help. And this is a great program to be able to do that,” he says.