OE Construction is a site development contractor specializing in excavation and underground utilities. The company is based in Golden, Colorado. Ms. Terri Olson is Vice President and a co-owner of the company with her son Chris. Ms. Olson is highly regarded in the Denver construction industry for her tireless promotion of construction workforce development. Specifically, OE Construction has been a gold sponsor for the Transportation and Construction Girl program in Colorado.
Incorporating Mental Health and Suicide Prevention into Monthly Employee Training
Mental health and suicide prevention are topics equally near to Olson’s heart – literally, as she is the survivor of her oldest son Tyler’s suicide now almost ten years ago. At the company’s February 2021 monthly all-employee training program, Olson discussed mental health and suicide prevention with the company’s 50 field and administrative employees. Olson said she “combined the mental health and suicide prevention messages with a drug and alcohol awareness presentation delivered by an outside speaker.”
Mental Health Information and Suicide Prevention Wallet Cards
Olson obtained various informational brochures from the company’s health benefits insurer to share with the employees. She also distributed educational STAND-Up to suicide prevention wallet cards she ordered from the Construction Industry Alliance for Suicide Prevention website. Olson said “the wallet cards and printed mental health insurance information were well received by our employees. It is tangible, they can put the card in their wallet, they can take the printed flyer home”. Olson noted the benefit of wallet cards is “in a crisis you don’t always remember a phone number or web site address, now you have a resource you can quickly access or use to find out a phone number in a hurry."
Positive Response by Employees
Olson shared the field and maintenance employees were “hesitant at first to comment or respond after the presentation and material handout”. She stated she knew “it would take some discussion and interaction to try and engage the employees.” Olson knows first-hand “how no one really wants to talk about suicide, but once people understand that they can stand up and pay attention and make a difference, I think that starts the conversation.”
Olson said it took a “concerted effort by me, the outside speaker, and our safety manager to engage the group with interactive stories and interactive questions to elicit a reply from the workers”. However, Olson said “once the silence was broken, then the group started to engage even more. The messages focused on keeping themselves, their families, friends, and crew members safe.” Olson was very pleased with the overall reception of the message. She said the outcome of the meeting was “positive, caring and I believe very impactful for the group.”
Power of Storytelling
Olson expressed the power of telling stories and sharing personal stories in the process to humanize the message. Olson shared how “for our company, we started out with real person stories about suicide. In one instance it was my son, in another instance, it was an 11-year employee of the company that passed away 3 years ago”. Olson shared that “the majority of the employees in the session knew one or both of the individuals we spoke about”. She said that “by telling ‘real’ stories our message made a bigger impact. We were able to get their attention and ultimately help open-up the conversation with the group."
Advice for Other Construction Company Leaders
Olson shared the following advice with leaders of construction companies about starting the conversation with employees about mental health and suicide prevention. Olson admitted that “taking the first step is a hard one to take, but I encourage other company leaders to take that important first step as well”. Olson realizes “how important it was to her employees for the company to express concern for them and their families”. Olson said it is “important to focus on educating employees on what this really means first. Then you can move to the next step of how to help others in your circle and work on solutions.”
Olson said it is vital to share “how to listen and respond to a mental health crisis and suicide prevention.” She reiterated the importance of wallet cards” to teach the warning signs of a mental health or suicide crisis” and the “resources available to friends, coworkers, and family members in a crisis.” Olson is convinced that everyone has a role to play in mental health advocacy and suicide prevention. She’s helped educate, empower, and equip the workers of her company to be aware and ready to do the same.
Acknowledgment: The author shares a heartfelt thank you to Terri Olson, vice president and co-owner of OE Construction for sharing her personal story of being a survivor of her son Tyler’s suicide. The author met Terri as he presented on “Shining Light on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention” for a Colorado association. Terri has offered to share more details in a future article highlighting her personal journey of finding hope, help, and recovery as a survivor of suicide.