Twin Cities union launches suicide and substance abuse program among construction workers

A Twin Cities painters union is tackling mental health with a new-to-Minnesota program that offers on-site counseling and intervention training to construction workers.

The aim is to tackle head-on the high rates of suicide and substance abuse in the construction industry and make it easier to access help without any stigma, organizers said.

The ‘FTIUM Care Team’ program was launched this month by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 (DC 82), which has 3,500 members, and the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM), both located in Little Canada.

The extra help is “100% absolutely necessary,” said Mike Vitt, a union building glass installer and Air Force veteran who served after 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. He suffers from PTSD and was thrilled with what he saw while taking one of the care team’s new courses which hopes to change the macho culture in construction, which organizers say contributes to suicide rates students.

“I’m glad it’s happening,” Vitt said. “I’ve had suicidal thoughts since I was 10 and had PTSD from both my childhood and the military. So I understand that there are people in the industry who have demons and problems and who need help but are too scared to speak out.”

Under the new program, which costs about $200,000 a year, Minnesota painters, drywall finishers, glaziers, glaziers and other tradespeople will have access to lifesaving mental health services, counseling on substance abuse, intervention training and health consultations directly at the training school. and union hall.

In addition to the courses, two mental health counselors will be on site full time at the training school shared by the two trade groups in Little Canada. A new four-hour training course called Changing Construction Culture is open to all union members after hours and mandatory for apprentices.

The institute has also ordered about 100 Narcan nasal spray dispensers so that each class and each of the school’s 45 employees will have them on hand in case of an emergency, both on and off site.

FTIUM Director of Academic Education John Burcaw said Narcan’s combined approach is expected to save lives, improve mental health, and is supported by the entire Minnesota entrepreneurial community.

The new classes focus on ways to let go of macho stereotypes; developing empathy; recognize colleagues in crisis; hit the hotlines and direct your colleagues to the services offered by the FTIUM care team.

“We’re going to change the culture,” Burcaw said. “Some of our workers are starting to realize the historic toxic masculinity of our industry and how it hurts them and their peers.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) found that suicide rates among construction workers were the second highest of any industry, followed by those in mining, oil and gas extraction.

Some 53 out of 100,000 construction workers commit suicide on average each year, the CDC reported. In Minnesota, there were 758 suicide deaths in 2020, ranking the state 13th out of 50 for suicides.

A spike in suicides among beleaguered rural farmers has captured attention in recent years and sparked innovative mental health services for them. Data and a similar focus on construction workers has been less so – until now.

Officials at TEAM Wellness at Work, which provides employee assistance services for the painters union, believe suicides are underreported in the industry.

Since the start of the pandemic, TEAM has responded and provided guidance to members after 32 traders took their own lives in Minnesota. And “that’s exactly what we answered,” said Jennifer Stanek, medical director and CEO of TEAM. Other employee assistance providers also responded to the suicides.

“The statistics are quite alarming [so] …our goal is to encourage workers to seek help when they need it and to end the stigma around mental health that pervades the construction industry,” she said .

Stanek noted that male construction workers said they feared being teased or bullied by their peers if they sought help. “This deep-rooted stigma surrounding mental health has proven deadly, in Minnesota and nationally,” she said.

According to the Center for Workplace Mental Health, several industry factors aggravate high rates of stress and depression, including chronic pain, sleep disruption from night shifts, tight deadlines, financial stress from work seasonality and the need to be seen as robust by peers. and the American Psychiatric Association.

Such studies spur broader action, Stanek said.

The North Central States Regional Carpenters Council will also launch a program similar to FTIUM’s in the fall in St. Paul. This union has 12,000 unionized members in Minnesota and 27,000 in the Midwest.

The new training and resources could help other workers get the help they need. After all, “The number of traders who commit suicide speaks for itself. And how many people have drug addiction problems?” said Vitt, the veteran taking advantage of the painters union program. “They need to have that support system and not be afraid to talk about it.”

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