Boldt Company 'gatekeepers' offer a peer network of support for suicide prevention & mental health support
Sept. 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 major industries with the highest suicide rates. People in construction can face mental health stressors such as a high pressure environment, lack of workplace permanency, deadlines, and physically taxing work.
To address 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 a first point of contact for any employees experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health struggles and connect them with appropriate resources.
"We focus in our construction industry about physical safety, but I think in 2021 in the middle of the pandemic we realized an opportunity to really focus on mental health and the mental safety as well," says John Huggett, Boldt Company vice president central operations and a trained gatekeeper himself.
He notes that the gatekeeper program is not mental health professionals, but is intended as a peer network that serves as an initial point of contact to not just provide an initial conversation, but then provide anyone with the assistance and resources that they may need.
There are 88 gatekeepers nationwide throughout the Boldt Company that were trained under the QPR Institute's suicide prevention training according to Huggett.
"The QPR stands for 'question, persuade, and refer.' Those are the three steps that the gatekeepers are trained under to be able to understand and spot warning signals, to be able to progress through that QPR phase to be able to get our fellow employees the assistance and the help that they need," he explains.
Gatekeepers can be identified by the purple sticker they wear on hardhats, computer terminals, and desks that reads "It's OK to Ask Me for Help." Huggett says that overall, their gatekeepers are those who are willing to listen, have an open door, and are viewed as trusted partners. As more employees use the help of gatekeepers, he hopes the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide will dwindle while also helping to develop a better work culture.
For Huggett, he's in the construction industry because of the ability to impact and change communities and work closely with people — and the gatekeeper program aligns perfectly with that.
"When there is a program that has the ability to be able to just impact people's lives in a positive way, I want to be a part of that. I've experienced the loss of a loved one through suicide. We have many of our gatekeepers that have had a similar experience, and those that have gone through that experience want to help. And this is a great program to be able to do that," he says.