The SMART Members Assistance Program (MAP) and the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) have been offering trainings to union leadership on the local level for the last three years in a concerted effort to curb the number of lives lost to addiction and suicide. In the latter part of 2019, peer-based trainings were held in Denver, Seattle, St. Louis and New Jersey to educate member volunteers on substance abuse, suicide prevention and rehabilitation treatment advocacy.
The peer-based training is meant for members not in official leadership roles and brings the education closer to those who are most unlikely to reach out to a business manager or training coordinator for help.
“We are increasing our focus on training compassionate and empathetic union members and building peer support systems for our local unions,” said Chris Carlough, education director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Members (SMART) education director. “We are trying to get our members the help they need, so it doesn’t impact their careers, their families or their lives.”
These new trainings, which have reached approximately 60 members, focus on building proactive intervention skills such as motivational interviewing techniques, suicide prevention and developing and practicing self-care to avoid compassion fatigue from working in emotionally stressful situations.
“This class has been transformational, educational and healing,” said Elliot Hassan from SMART-Transportation Division Local 324. “I was blown away by how good this class was.”
Other participants noted in post-course evaluations the class helped them to listen better, heightened their awareness, educated them on marijuana myths and facts, informed them about addiction and engaged them in role playing, which helped them learn how to approach tough conversations. Anecdotes and shared stories also helped the topics hit home and gave participants tools to take home to their locals.
Working-age men (age 25-54) form the largest number of suicide deaths in United States. This group suffers from problematic thinking that mental health disorders are unmanly and a sign of weakness. They don’t talk about problems with friends or share them with their families— and rarely seek professional treatment.
Substance use disorders and mental health disorders are linked to nearly 90 percent of suicide deaths. This is why SMART MAP has a strong focus on suicide prevention.
SMART MAP’s mission is to build awareness around the national health epidemic of substance use disorder and other mental health problems including thoughts of suicide, and to construct a support network of compassionate union members and mental health experts for members and their families who are facing these life-challenging difficulties.
Ideal SMART MAP peer volunteers are well respected, compassionate individuals who have a strong desire to help others and are willing to volunteer their time. Volunteers help guide members to treatment and help members after treatment when they need support in recovery. Ideal volunteers can be addicts in recovery as well.
The second round of peer-based trainings will be on a first-come, first-serve basis, and there are six to eight classes expected for 2020, reaching 120 to 200 additional members.
Business managers or other local leaders must be trained in SMART MAP before on-site training can take place.
To date, SMART MAP classes scheduled for 2020 include March 9-13 in Long Beach, California; July 13-17 in Denver; and Oct. 12-16 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Since 2016, SMART MAP has been training those in leadership positions, including business managers, representatives, organizers and agents and training coordinators and instructors, reaching upwards of 450 throughout the country.
The peer-based training was the next step to infiltrating the union with empathetic and educated ears.
“We feel that peer-based support networks are most effective at reducing relapse and are helping our members and their families recover from the traumas of addiction and other mental health-related problems,” Carlough said.
According to a 2016 U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention study, the construction and extraction industry ranks the second highest occupation in the nation for suicide with 53 suicides per 100,000. The norm is 12 per 100,000.
Much like CPR/AED training and first aid, the SMART MAP class was created to give members the skills to help their peers by watching for signs, intervening and guiding them to treatment, whether it be for addiction, mental health or other familial issues.
The Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT) was founded in 1986 to address the impact of decades-long asbestos exposure on those working in the sheet metal industry. To date, more than 55,000 sheet metal workers have been screened as part of its ongoing Asbestos Screening Program.
SMOHIT has since expanded its mission to operate on four separate but related tracks: monitoring and documenting the health of sheet metal workers as it relates to workplace exposures and hazards; providing safety information and training related to best safety practices on and off the job; acting as an aggressive advocate for the health and safety of its members with government and through likeminded allied organizations; and providing diet and exercise information to address the health and wellness of its members.
SMOHIT has adjusted its methods and messages to reflect feedback from local unions and the industry, and to address new safety challenges as they arise. The organization works directly with the International Training Institute (ITI) to provide training programs for the unionized sheet metal industry.
For more information on SMOHIT, visit smohit.org or call 703-739-7130.