The shifting conversation on mental health encompasses more than company leaders. Industry organizations now provide company owners and the workforce with resources and skills. Examples include the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention (CIASP) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
The CIASP was established in 2016 after CDC published data on suicide per occupation, and became a non-profit in 2018. Its mission is to change stigmas surrounding mental health in the construction industry, and its led primarily by commercial construction professionals. The association emphasizes on shifting company culture to inspire change.
“People thought we were crazy,” says Michelle Walker, immediate past chair of the organization. “But [today] they are a lot more accepting than they were seven years ago. The number of companies that are actively adopting things could be better, but if somebody’s doing one thing, it’s better than nothing.”
CIASP offers contractors toolkits and roadmaps to begin the conversation and equip leaders and team members with information. NAHB released its findings from its mental health pilot program in March 2023 in partnership with the North Carolina Home Builders Association. The program features two members sharing their personal experiences with mental health: Brandon Bryant, the HBA president and owner of Red Tree Builders, and past president Gary Hill, who discusses a close industry friend who took his own life.
But [today] they are a lot more accepting than they were seven years ago. The number of companies that are actively adopting things could be better, but if somebody’s doing one thing, it’s better than nothing.
“As I got through the storytelling with NAHB, it was like, ‘Wow, like this is really needed,’” says Bryant. “As a business owner, you don’t look at your employees as a profit center or a cost. They’re human, and they have stuff going on in their family lives.”
The program also provides toolbox talks, jobsite resources, whitepapers, health screenings, and lessons.
The National Association of Home Builders
With the construction industry’s high rates of substance misuse and deaths by suicide, staff and members of the NAHB stepped up to help address the challenges.
“Trade associations have a role to play in addressing these types of issues,” says David Jaffe, vice president of construction liability at NAHB and staffs its construction liability, risk management, and building materials committees.
For three years, NAHB has worked to understand, analyze, and educate the residential construction community on mental health and well-being. The association’s efforts are aimed at three goals: raise awareness; initiate discussion to de-stigmatize; and empower members to take action.
“One of the things that was very clear to us when we looked at this is we wanted to place mental health on the same par as physical health,” explains Jaffe.
To kick off the initiative, NAHB began within its young professionals, in partnership with mental health resource provider MindWise Innovations and supported by the American Society of Association Executives Research Foundation Innovation Grant. This snowballed into a pilot program running from 2021 to 2023 offering members comprehensive insights for understanding and improving mental health and well-being. This program aimed to provide a detailed assessment of needs, strengths, and an outline for improvement.
Funded by a grant from Job-Site Safety Institute, the program brought together one of NAHB’s largest affiliates— the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA)—with Clinical Psychologist Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas. Spencer-Thomas’ expertise focused on three phases: research, a storytelling project, and resources, such as toolbox talks.
A Look At The Three Phases
The research phase resulted in a 2023 report titled A Blueprint for Home Builders’ Well-Being. It provides industry members with a robust overview of construction professionals’ view on mental health, and recommendations for improvement.
Surveys, interviews, and a focus group from the NCHBA revealed key understandings about mental health in construction. The data showed that construction professionals acknowledge their distress, they have a willingness to reach out for support, but lack knowledge of next steps. Additionally, there remains a stigma against mental health.
The next phase, storytelling, is what Spencer-Thomas says is the most impactful piece—yet the hardest.
“It really only takes a few brave people to see that when somebody tells their story in an impactful way, they are seen as courageous, resilient, strong leaders—all of those qualities that they're afraid they're going to lose,” says Spencer-Thomas.
As a part of this effort, two leaders in the NCHBA affiliate volunteered to share how suicide and mental health have affected their personal lives, Red Tree Builder Owner Brandon Bryant and Commercial Service at Newcomb and Company Gary Hill.
“It was a great journey for me. As a business owner, I thought I needed to look content and confident that I had it together for my employees,” says Bryant.
The final phase was releasing industry-specific mental health resources, and NAHB opted to make all resources available for free, which includes 39 unique information cards diving into topics such as anger, loneliness, stigma, and sleep, in addition to toolbox talks, webinars, articles, and much more.