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Men’s Mental Health Month: “I don’t have the answers, but I can listen”

Men’s Mental Health Month: “I don’t have the answers, but I can listen”


June is Men’s Mental Health Month. While there’s a loud and important push within construction to make our industry more diverse and inclusive, the fact remains that our industry is heavily comprised of men—meaning that the issues surrounding men’s mental health affect our community disproportionately.

While Pinkard Construction strives to be a leader in mental health—recently earning the highest mental health resources score of any general contractor in Colorado as a Health Links “Blue Badge Certified” Healthy Workplace—much work remains in addressing the deeply-entrenched cultural norms that keep people, men in particular, from discussing mental health and taking action.

In part one of our three-part series of Q&As discussing Men’s Mental Health Month, we chat with Field Safety Manager David Ruddy, aka “Safety Dave,” about the relationship between mental health and safety, and how making yourself vulnerable is the first step to getting others to open up.


What first got you thinking about men’s mental health?

Pinkard is big on mental health, but when it comes to men specifically, I remember hearing a speech on it from the Colorado Department of Public Health back in 2017. The guy had all these resources geared toward reaching men who might be resistant to it — like the Man Therapy posters you can still see in our breakroom — and it really opened my eyes to the unique struggles that men face.

We started talking on the Pinkard safety committee about what we can do better. How do we give people an innocent choice to call somebody for help? One thing we did was start putting up these stickers inside every single porta-john on our job sites. They say “YOU MATTER” in English and Spanish, with a QR code that will take you to the “988” National Suicide Prevention hotline.

What resources does Pinkard offer its employees?

Our benefits package includes various resources through Cigna Behavioral Health, plus Magellan EAP, which gives everyone 5 free counseling sessions, and Youturn Health, a virtual support program for those struggling with stress and substance issues.

I am part of the Youturn program, and, in fact, I utilize that service myself. I've had some challenges within my family, and with my Youturn coach, we’ll talk it through, they’ll give me advice, like, “Dave, this is not your egg to fry. Stop trying to cook it and leave it alone,” which is really, really helpful.

How is mental health a part of safety in construction?

You can’t have safety on a job if you aren’t taking care of people’s mental wellbeing. I give a lot of my “Toolbox Talks” on mental health, and when I do the safety orientation for new hires, I give everybody my phone number, and I say, “You call me anytime, day or night, it doesn't matter when you call. If you're feeling down and out, if you need a ride because you've been drinking too much, if you're just in a bad place and you want to talk, call me.”

And people take you up on it?

It has happened twice. Just this week I had a guy text me at 1:30 in the morning. We got on the phone and chatted for half an hour, and I think that's what he needed. He wasn’t going to hurt himself, but he'd been down and out for a while, and was feeling horrible about himself. The next day I got him connected with our HR department, and now they’re helping him get whatever assistance he needs.

What do you think are some of the mental health challenges that are unique to men?

I come from a generation where people say things like: “Just do it,” “Rub some dirt on it,” “Cowboy up,” “Suck it up,” “Quit whining,” “Put some duct tape on it and get back to work.” We suppress those feelings because we don't want to look like we're weak. We choose not to address the mental angst that we're in, until we can't anymore. It's just been bred into us.

What are the challenges unique to our industry?

The challenge is that we’re all under the intense pressures of deadlines. We build big, beautiful buildings worth millions of dollars, for clients who expect us to get them done on schedule, on time, and under budget. When you have deadlines like that, you feel it in your muscles. It lives in you.

Because this is a high-pressure work environment, there’s a culture of “I don't have time to hear about your dog dying, or your wife serving you papers,” but as men, we have got to be able to express, “I am not all here today.” Just by giving someone three or five minutes to vent, you might be giving them what they need to get on with their day.

What needs to change?

The stigma and awareness. It's easier to have a conversation about mental health than it was 20 years ago, but there are still many people out there who are uncomfortable talking about it—and within construction we have people who come from different cultures where it’s even more taboo than it is in the United States.

When you’ve got a broken arm, people can see the cast, they can see you’re injured, but they don’t judge you for it. When your thinking is broken, it’s invisible to the people around you, and there’s a real fear they might judge you for it. That has to change.

What can we do to be part of that change?

Just make yourself available, remind people of it, and check in on them. I’m not a fixer or a mental health professional, but I’ve got two ears to hear what you’ve got to say. I don’t have the answers, but I can listen.

When you can make yourself vulnerable enough that somebody felt safe to call or text you and say, “I'm not doing well,” you know you’ve broken through somewhere. By contrast, if you're the guy that sits back and says, “Dude, you'll be fine. Suck it up and move on,” you might regret that.


YOU MATTER: If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, we urge you to call or text “988” to reach the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, where you can confidentially talk with a trained crisis counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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