For Chris Carlough, SMART Member Assistance Program (MAP) coordinator, the mission to help improve union workers’ mental health is personal.
“I’ve been working with the SMART MAP program for probably about 10 years or so,” Carlough said during an interview with SMART News. “It’s important to me because I’m a guy that’s in recovery from drugs and alcohol, and I see the importance of talking about some of the issues – because people don’t like to talk about mental health.”
The SMART MAP offers mental health awareness and action training, enabling SMART mentors to provide support for members struggling with substance use disorder or mental health issues. The trainings are led by Carlough, who is working to build a compassionate, peer-based support system for members and their families. Carlough brings his own experience in recovery to reach a vulnerable population with a “tough-guy” mentality.
“These trainings start with construction workers who are rough and tumble, who push some of those emotions down,” Carlough said. “‘Rub some dirt on it, pull yourself up.’ And at the end of these trainings, we have members saying they’re going to start doing therapy…and starting to work on some self-care stuff.”
Carlough cited the epidemic of suicide in the construction industry as one of the motivating factors for his work. A CDC study from January 2020 found that the rate of suicides in construction is the second highest in the country: Compared with the national average, a person working in construction is 3.5 times more likely to take their own life.
“A construction worker in this sense is more vulnerable to suicide than they are to the dangers of an actual construction site,” Carlough said. “When we saw that, we realized we needed to talk about this more.”
Through the SMART MAP program, Carlough strives to increase dialogue, reduce the stigma, and get people the resources they need.
“We’ve been able to pivot over the last few years to peer training,” Carlough said, “which is getting to our rank and file, people on the jobsite or in the shop, and really empowering them to go out there and be peer advocates for their members and getting people to be comfortable to have uncomfortable conversations.”
This important mental health work is being recognized. SMART and SMOHIT received the union award for Mental Health Visionary at the inaugural Construction Working Minds Summit in 2022. In addition, Local 33’s (northern Ohio) Eli Baccus won a Mental Health Champion award in 2022, and Local 18’s (Wisconsin) Craig Holzem is the winner of the same award for 2023.
This work is ongoing and relies on the involvement of all SMART members. Those interested in participating can reach out to their business manager, who can then contact SMOHIT.