Initiative to tackle mental health in the finishing trade, construction sector: ‘We saved lives’ – WCCO

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. (WCCO) – A mental health initiative that is making a difference for students and workers in finishing professions.

In 2017, the Upper Midwest’s Transactional Institute for Perfection (FTIUM) launched the Helping Hands initiative. The aim is to normalize conversation about mental health and create an environment where people feel comfortable asking for help.

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“Anyone who works in this building knows how to respond to a crisis,” said FTIUM Academic Education Director John Burcaw. “The most important thing is that we must live what we say. We decided to do it here. “

The Helping Hands initiative focuses on stigma, changes the words used to discuss mental health, and ends discrimination against people with mental health and use disorders. stimulant use.

All staff of the apprentice college and their district board participated in Mental Health First Aid and a course called “Changing Constructive Cultures”. Both courses will be made available to students and union members starting this fall.

Bob Swanson is the instructor for the course “Changing Construction Culture”.

“The industry is a tough one,” says Swanson. “We cannot change some of the dynamics. It’s still a stressful industry, lots of schedules, lots of road work, all that. But we can change the way we take care of people.”

Swanson retired as a paint contractor. He serves as a suicide prevention advocate and a regular speaker of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Life changed forever for his family on March 13, 2009.

“Our eldest son Michael died by suicide,” Swanson said of her 33-year-old son. “Those who knew him all loved him. He is the magnet in the room. The real tragedy is that he doesn’t feel it.”

Swanson shares her struggle with loss.

“I carry a lot of guilt. I was raised as a male. You provide and protect your family. That was drilled into me by my father… and here I could not protect my son. I felt so guilty, so embarrassed,” Swanson said. “Thankfully, I was in a support group, a male support group, for a couple of years to help me get through that. Then I just said, ‘I can’t be angry all my life… what are we supposed to do about this?’ “

Swanson has spoken about 140 times over the past half-decade, telling his story to NAMI groups, working groups, construction teams, and others around the country. He continues to learn about people, disease, and substance use.

“I just don’t want anyone else to go through what we went through,” Swanson said. “I have become, I think more sensitive to, these are just diseases. Not anyone’s fault. Nobody wants them and they are all treatable.”

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that men working in construction had the highest suicide rate in the country compared to other industries. It is about four times higher than that of the general population.

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Risk factors include demanding schedules, uncertain seasonal work, and workplace injuries that are sometimes treated with opioids.

“It is a demanding job. “We were under a lot of pressure at work, deadlines, time constraints, money,” says Burcaw. “Then you have the perils that we face… part of the construction is working in remote areas, sometimes working alone. For example, women in these professions can feel isolated, as you’re not always sure if you’re a good fit.”

When it comes to suicide in Minnesota, the numbers are staggering.

In 2019, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 830 self-harm deaths – the highest number ever recorded in the state to that point. Suicides disproportionately affect men, Native Americans, and those between the ages of 45 and 64. Men are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than women.

That’s a trend FTIUM is working to change. Hundreds of students have attended the apprentice college, trade school of the Union of International Painters, and the Allied Trade Council District 82 Council. The district council represents 3,200 members and works with approximately approx. 90 recruiters.

“We know we have saved many lives. We know we’ve saved a lot of lives in the past month just because of our courage, people have the courage to come forward, ask for help and then get the help they need,” Burcaw said of the school. apprenticeship university.

Brandon Baier was one of 16 students to complete an 18-week PSEO program at the Upper Midwest’s Perfecting Trading Academy. After spending four and a half years being bullied and attempted suicide, the teen transferred schools and a counselor urged him to apply for the PSEO program.

“It feels really great when I can be myself around people and they won’t judge who I am or what I do,” Baier says. “We’re like a close-knit family here… we all like each other and love each other.”

Baier explains how instructors receiving his training through the Helping Hands initiative helped him find success in the program.

“He sensed if I wasn’t okay or something was wrong and he would text me right away,” Baier said of one instructor. “‘Are you OK?’ It’s nice to have that support even if I don’t ask for it. They will ask me. “

Future commercial painter is considering several employment options. He will graduate from Paladin Vocational & Technical High School in June.

After hearing Baier’s story, Swanson shared this message.

“Listening to Brandon’s story, I got goosebumps,” Swanson said. “Feel proud of him and proud that our industry is changing because he feels safe.”

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For more information about the Upper Midwest Transaction Perfection Academy, the Helping Hands initiative, or career perfection, click here.

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