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Men’s Mental Health Month: “We have to create a community”

Men’s Mental Health Month: “We have to create a community”


Earlier this month, Pinkard project estimator Bryce Heitsmith posted a long LinkedIn message that stood out among the usual professional posturing you see on the social media site.

He wrote: “The older I get, the more I realize how my mental health affects my team, my clients, and most importantly my family. As I focus on my own mental health, I can’t help but notice how many other men relate but never talk. Some startling statistics will show this is a bigger problem than we all want to think it is.”

The stats that Bryce listed:

  • In 2021, the suicide rate among men was approximately four times higher than the rate among women.

  • Men make up 50% of the population but nearly 80% of suicides.

  • Nearly 1 in 10 men experience some form of depression or anxiety, but less than half seek treatment.

  • More than 3 million men in the US suffer from a panic disorder, agoraphobia, or other phobia.

  • 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health.

The post ends with a plea: “Check in on your husbands, father, brothers, and sons. They fight a silent battle none of us may know about until it’s too late.”

In our continuing series of Q&As observing Men’s Mental Health Month, we talk further with Bryce about his well-researched perspectives on this complex issue.


How did you come to be outspoken on men’s mental health?

Before working in construction, I was an EMT, so I come from a background where you deal with the effects of mental health problems—from mental breakdowns to suicide—on a daily basis. When you go out on those calls, it’s eye-opening to see just how many of them are not only men, but men who work in trades like ours.

Why does the mental health of men deserve special attention?

As a male, things like depression, anxiety, and panic disorders are often overlooked. There’s this mentality of “get back to work and don't worry about it,” but that can be a band-aid on a gaping wound. I think it's so important to make people aware of the struggles and the silent battles that men face but rarely get attention for.

What about men’s mental health in construction?

I believe Pinkard takes mental health seriously—and that's why I love Pinkard—but in the industry as a whole, it's pretty much: “Get your job done and go home.” And a lot of times “going home” means drinking, doing drugs, getting in fights with your wife or girlfriend...

Our divorce rates are at 60-65% in construction. Men are taking their lives at drastically higher rates, and the construction industry has a higher suicide rate than society at large. Nobody talks about the silent battles these guys are going through, and I don't believe the industry does nearly enough to help these guys.

What needs to change?

A lot of times they're very worried about the pressures of a project and meeting deadlines, but deadlines don't get done if don’t show up to work the next day. Nobody wants to talk about how they are feeling because they’re afraid that if their boss gets wind of it, they're going to lose their job. So they can't talk about it, and that takes just as much of a mental toll on these guys as what’s bothering them in the first place.

So part of it is removing that fear of losing your livelihood just because you're going through a tough time, and then getting the help you need. [At Pinkard] we're industry leaders in that, but it needs to be the standard to give these gentlemen time to get away from the project without the repercussions of a workplace.

How else do we get men comfortable with the idea of talking about mental health?

We have to break down the stigma of actually contacting mental health resources. We can put a resource in front of your face every day, but if you never contact that resource, it’s useless.

Professional therapy has its place. My father is a therapist who helps his patients analyze their feelings and learn how to strategically attack the problem. But in reality, a lot of construction workers are never going to sit down in an office with some college educated therapist who can’t truly relate to their lives.

So what’s the alternative?

Don’t get me wrong. Therapy is cool and sometimes necessary, but in many cases, people just need someone to drink a beer and vent about their day with. We have to create a community of resources that don't feel like you're calling a therapist. You need that buddy you can call at 2:00 a.m. Loneliness is a killer, and that's often what it comes down to.

The challenge is that these guys are working 10-hour, 12-hour, or 14-hour days. They don’t want to get off work and go vent to with their buddy about how they're feeling or how hard their day was, because they’re tired. All they want to do is go home and rest, but you have to make time for it.

In our conversation with Safety Dave, he talked about the importance of making yourself vulnerable. What does that have to do with fostering this new sense of community?

Part of it is creating an environment where you can be vulnerable and talk about your struggles without fearing somebody will use it against you. Men are expected to be the strong person in the situation. We have to break down the stigmas that prevent us from showing weakness. You can be a strong-minded person, a strong teammate, and a strong leader while also being vulnerable in certain areas. If we can dissolve that illusion, we can really start talking to each other.

What is something that Pinkard is doing right?

One thing that I really value is that Pinkard is careful not to understaff our projects. We all have big responsibilities and work hard, but we staff our projects very diligently so that one person isn’t going to be completely overwhelmed.

A big part of that is giving people the ability to take time off and take care of themselves. Few companies offer the same benefits or PTO, and our leadership directly encourages us to use it. In my department [of Preconstruction], Leighton and Jesse directly tell us, “Hey, take your time off. Let's plan a month a month or two in advance to get you the two or three days off you need to recover.” That's a huge thing that they encourage you to take your vacation, and they create plans so that your job is covered while you’re gone. Not many places do that.

What else would you love to see?

Industry-wide, people and companies need to take the initiative to bring these guys together and create more community outside of work. That could mean weekly or monthly after-work meetups, or special events where they can bring their families. At the end of the day, we need to break down the barriers and create more connections and friendships so that nobody feels like they’re alone.


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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