How Twin Cities construction workers are accessing free mental health services

Local Painters Union and its training school launch free treatment program for mental health and substance use disorders to members to tackle stigmas, save lives

  • Construction workers have the one of the highest suicide rates of any industry and are 7 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than other workers.
  • To combat this, District Council 82 (DC 82) and Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) have started the FTIUM Care Team, which will provide their 3,500 union members with access to free counseling.
  • Long-standing cultural stigmas surrounding mental health care often prevent workers from seeking help when in crisis. As part of its program, the FTIUM Care Team is launching mental health first-aid courses to help men in construction notice signs of crises before they happen
FTIUM Care Team logo

LITTLE CANADA, MN – To address the high suicide and substance misuse rates in the construction industry, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 82 (DC 82) and the Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest (FTIUM) are giving painters, drywall finishers, glassworkers, glaziers, and more, increased access to life-saving mental health services, substance use counseling, health consultation and more critical resources through a new program called the FTIUM Care Team.

Finishing Trades Institute of the Upper Midwest students and seasoned workers will all have access to this unique employee assistance program aimed at educating members, reducing stigma and encouraging craftworkers to seek help in times of crisis. The union hopes to not only prevent suicide among workers, but to help them live mentally healthy lives.

“Our goal is to encourage workers to ask for help when they need it and stop the stigma around mental health that pervades the construction industry,” said Jennifer Stanek, MS, PA-C, Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director at TEAM Wellness at Work. “DC 82 members can come to us right here at the training center and union hall. It’s a familiar place to them, and that alone helps members feel more comfortable asking for help.”

In the male-dominated field of construction, those who do seek help often fear teasing and emasculating bullying from their peers. This deep-rooted stigma surrounding mental health has proven to be deadly, in Minnesota and nationally. The shame connected with talking about issues such as depression has led to an extremely high suicide rate among construction workers, especially men. About 53 out of 100,000 workers take their own lives.

In addition to providing services, the union hopes to change the culture on job sites, equipping workers with the tools to spot warning signs of crisis among their coworkers. The union’s school has started a four-hour course called Changing the Culture of Construction, which is open to all 3,500 members and takes place after work hours. The coursework gives workers tools to develop compassion and empathy. They learn ways to initiate tough conversations that can save lives and help get each other the healthcare they need through the FTIUM Care Team.

DC 82’s Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer, Jeff Stark, said, “Our main goal has always been to help our workers succeed. We’ve seen that professional success isn’t only about showing up to work, learning skills, and getting paid. It’s about building a culture of support and wellness that helps members and their families in the long term.”

“What makes FTIUM and DC 82 different is that we create spaces for workers to be their whole selves,” said FTIUM’s Director of Academic Education, John Burcaw. “Some of our workers are starting to wake up to our industry’s historical toxic masculinity and how it hurts them and their peers. They’re beginning to recognize the immense strength that comes with talking about your struggles. We’re proud to be part of this important shift in the construction industry.”