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Suicide Prevention Matters

Michelle D. Eastman, CCIFP
Michelle Eastman, CCIFP, Chairman

Welcome to the holiday season – a time when we prepare to share joy and fellowship with those we love! As I contemplated what to write for this issue on industry trends, I could not help but think about the strides that CFMA has made over the past several years to reduce the number of construction industry lives lost to suicide.

With that thought in mind, I would like to share a revised version of what I wrote on CFMA's Connection Café on March 2, 2017, in hopes of ending this devastating industry trend.

Why Suicide Prevention Matters

First things first: I want to admit that I was "one of the ones." I was "one of the ones" who wondered how this new, scary, taboo subject of suicide prevention would fit within our Association's goal to be the source and resource to the construction industry. I was "one of the ones" who thought that suicide's impact, though profound on those directly impacted, touched too few of our members to be relevant. I was "one of the ones" who thought bringing this to the forefront had to be the responsibility of some other group; surely it could not fall to a group of accountants.

And I write this now to say that, at the end of the day, I was "one of the ones" who was so profoundly wrong that I find it incredibly humbling and somewhat shameful to admit. You see, I thought all of that until my experiences from December 2015 through February 2017 happened. I am no longer, and never again will be, "one of the ones."

On December 9, 2015, when I landed in Austin, TX for a CFMA Executive Committee meeting, like many parents, I took my phone off airplane mode as quickly as allowed to let my children know that I had landed safely. As I did that, I had received an urgent text from my oldest daughter.

"Mom – Please call me as soon as you can. One of my friends took his life last night. I just found out. I don't know what to do! Help!"

It took several minutes just to gather my thoughts and call my then 22-year-old daughter to try to help her. There are few words known to me to help explain: why and how a vibrant young man had reached such a level of despair that he had not cried out for help; that they, his friends, did not and would not ever get the chance to try and help; and how such vibrancy and compassion for others ended in his death by suicide.

Also in December 2015, one of my long-time friends from CFMA's Central Indiana Chapter was tragically impacted by suicide. I had the pleasure of serving alongside him on the chapter's Education Committee (which he led with absolute dedication for 14 years). He is in part responsible for where I am today in CFMA's leadership, as he was part of the group that first approached me about serving as a chapter officer. This hard-working, dedicated friend learned that his brother died by suicide. I paused again to try, pretty unsuccessfully, to process how his brother – a husband, a father of three children, and a controller for a large hotel chain – had died by suicide, and how to even try to help my friend in his time of loss.

Then on June 27, 2016, I attended an Executive Committee meeting at CFMA's Annual Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio, TX where I had the pleasure of hearing Cal Beyer and Sally Spencer- Thomas speak not just about all that they were accomplishing and the momentum building, but also how CFMA's involvement was helping to make it happen. Upon landing back in Indianapolis, I reached out to my local chapter peer whose brother died by suicide just six months prior to start the wheels of a Suicide Prevention Summit for Indianapolis.

In February 2017, I had the opportunity to and privilege of attending CFMA's Chicago Chapter's first Suicide Prevention Summit, and I was forever changed. I attended to see how they developed their program, get tips and advice, make additional connections to provide valuable assistance to our Indy planning team, and because it made sense to experience it for myself. I got all of that and an awakening.

When I listened to and watched Sally Spencer-Thomas present, I learned in vivid clarity that we lose far too many shining stars to death by suicide. I learned I was no longer happy to be rescuing downstream if I could have anything to do with helping upstream (thank you, Sally). I felt it would no longer be enough for North Mechanical's safety motto to just get our employees home safe every night; we needed to do all we could to have them safely back with us each morning (thank you, Cal). And I decided my casseroles would never again be just for my friends facing physical mountains; I would provide the same compassion for friends who were impacted by mental illness (thank you, David Sauerman).

Am I ashamed to admit I was "one of the ones"? Absolutely. But that person is no longer! Instead, I would love to see you at any of the local or regional CFMA suicide prevention summits or events – get informed, be prepared, and when called upon, let us do our part to make a difference.

I was wrong. Suicide prevention is absolutely in line with our Association's goal and it touches all of our members – some more profoundly than others. We can and should stand over 8,600 members strong in any way possible to stop this tragedy! And we, CFMA, "just" a group of accountants, are absolutely the group to bring this to the forefront!

CFMA has taken the pledge to stand up for suicide prevention alongside a growing number of construction industry organizations to protect our most valuable assets, our people. Through our combined efforts, we will take our industry far from being number one on the suicide-by-industry list. We will save lives. And we all will reap the benefits of continuing to see shining stars shine!

Copyright © 2019 by the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA). All rights reserved. This article first appeared in CFMA Building Profits and is reprinted with permission. CFMA Building Profits is a member-only benefit; join CFMA to receive the magazine.

Contact publications@cfma.org for reprinting information. You can also download a PDF of this article.