Mental health can’t be fixed with duct tape.

That was the message from the Newfoundland and Labrador Construction Safety Association (NLCSA) in the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention (MHSP) in the Construction Industry Leadership Roundtable – What We Heard report, which was released in September.

The report consists of the findings of the roundtable, which was held virtually Nov. 2 and 3, 2021.

Over 100 stakeholders from construction, occupational health and safety and mental health and suicide prevention organizations took part in the event with the goal of “laying the foundation for the development of an evidence-based MHSP strategy for the construction industry” in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Participants discussed whether there is a need for an industry-led MHSP strategy for construction workers in the province and identified current resources available.

“Discussion also focused on existing and potential barriers to implementing an industry-wide MHSP strategy, how to best raise awareness and potential funding sources for training, implementation, research and evaluation of such a program,” states the report.

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Sessions included How Did We Get Here and What Are Your Experiences?; Mental Health Resources – Availability, Usage and Gaps; Industry-Based Suicide Prevention Initiative – A Success Model; and Support for an Industry-Based Program, Resources and Steps Forward.

The findings from the roundtable were categorized into four themes: education, resources, advocacy and research.

In terms of education, the industry felt strongly there is a significant opportunity for educational initiatives aimed at mental health and suicide prevention.

“Having a clear, consistent and co-ordinated effort would serve to improve outcomes across the industry,” states the report. “Educational initiatives would need top-down support but may be more effective with a bottom up/peer-based delivery approach. It was felt that, currently, many training programs exist and that there may not be a need to reinvent the wheel, however any training program would need to be tailored to industry, speaking to specific risk factors, and delivered consistently across the industry.”

The availability and access to resources was also identified as a concern by the industry.

“We heard that resources were both lacking and underutilized and that there is a general lack of awareness about available resources (particularly workplace-led initiatives),” the report states. “As an industry we can play a role in raising awareness around available resources and advocate for improved resources where gaps have been identified.”

As for advocacy, the industry said there is significant opportunity to influence perceptions, public policy and investment.

While countries like the U.K., Australia and U.S. have research on mental health and the rates of suicide for those employed in the industry, little up-to-date research is available in Canada.

“Research can play an important role in helping shape a more effective mental health and suicide prevention program, particularly through evaluations focused on understanding effective implementation strategies of such a program and by documenting the future effectiveness of any industry wide initiative on key outcomes focused on improvements in mental health and suicide prevention within this province,” the report indicates.

The report concluded in order to develop and implement a MHSP strategy, resources need to identified and accessed and those involved said it was important that any initiative be universal, transferrable and available regardless of where workers are located in the province.

“Overwhelmingly, participants expressed the need for something to be done and the desire to take action,” the report reads. “The majority felt that the most expedient way forward would include the establishment of a task force to carry this initiative forward.”

Comprised of 20 members a taskforce was established and the inaugural meeting took place in September.

The report was released following the meeting.

In addition to the NLCSA, members include representatives from SafetyNet Centre for OHS Research (Memorial University), WorkplaceNL, the OHS Division of Digital Government and ServiceNL, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, TradesNL, construction employers and individuals with lived experience.

The NLCSA’s annual health and safety conference will take place Nov. 9 at the Emera Centre (Signal Hill Campus) in St. John’s, N.L. The theme celebrating the associations 25th anniversary is “Safety. Built By Industry.”

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Why is mental health important in construction?

Growing mental health concerns exist in the construction industry because it ranks second highest in suicide rates among major industries. Research shows that up to 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental health condition.