St. Louis Local 1 lit up the outside of its headquarters in teal and purple last September as part of National Suicide Prevention Month. Photo credit: John Kahrhoff

The headquarters of the IBEW's very first local looked a little different this past fall, at least from the outside, as it lit up its building with teal and purple lights in honor of National Suicide Prevention Month.

"With an issue this important, we wanted to be part of the effort to help raise awareness," said St. Louis Local 1 Business Manager Frank Jacobs.

Each September, mental health advocates and others use National Suicide Prevention Month to spotlight a topic that's often very difficult to talk about, making actions like Local 1's all the more important because they draw attention to the issue in a curiosity-piquing, nonjudgmental way.

Jacobs said that when they last renovated the hall, they made all the outdoor lights LED, so the colors can be easily changed at any time, something the local does periodically throughout the year. So when they heard about the work the area building trades were doing to do support the issue, they were all in. And members appreciated the gesture of glowing teal and purple solidarity.

"Suicide is an issue that hits close to home for those of us in the building trades," Jacobs said. "Unfortunately, we have lost far too many to suicide."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that overall suicide rates in the U.S. have increased. It's been the 10th leading cause of death since 2008. And the hardships wrought by the coronavirus have only contributed to a further mental health erosion. A weekly CDC report from June 2020 found that 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use and that 11% of adults seriously considered suicide.

Construction workers have one of the highest rates of suicide compared to other industries, according to the CDC. In 2016, the rate for men in construction and extraction occupations was almost twice the total suicide rate for non-military working men, and five times greater than the rate for all fatal work injuries in the industry.

"The construction industry is a tough job," Jacobs said "You don't get paid if you don't work, so guys will often take a couple pills to get through an injury and in some cases things spiral out of control."

According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, research has shown that people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks about them in a caring way, and that acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce, rather than increase, suicidal thoughts. Similarly, individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed and more hopeful after speaking to someone who listens to them without judgment.

"We want to do whatever we can to help our brothers and sisters who may be suffering," Jacobs said. "We're here for them and we want them to know that."

If you are in crisis or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255). If you're uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.