CEA’s Monthly Breakfast | Thoughts from Nicole Jenkins

Alison SouthBlog

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When asked to write this blog, I wasn’t sure what approach to take when explaining the experience that was: “The April 3rd Construction Executive’s Association (CEA) Monthly Breakfast.”  

The air was different, the vibe was thick, and the tone was somber. Although we started off with the excitement of the pre-apprenticeship program at Junior Achievement, everyone knew where  conversation was headed next. Hayden and Heather were about to drop some heavy *ish.*

Flashback…Spring 2002. 7th grade. Winnisquam Regional Middle School. My first encounter with suicide. A boy in my homeroom named Nick, who was seemingly normal and a pretty happy kid, took his own life after school one day. He was 13 years old. 

I didn’t really get it at the time. I knew he wasn’t the most popular kid, but he never gave off that he was “that kind of kid.” I didn’t realize until I was older that I had zero idea what that “type of kid” or “type of person” even was. People around me that I loved were telling me feelings they were having that I was amiss on how to interpret. However, it was a conversation that I found myself having over and over again in many different lights. What was this THING affecting so many people in my circle? 

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So, I started thinking about it. I thought back on some pretty low moments in my own life, and I could relate to those emotions that can drive you pedal through the floor downhill. That was the first time I did my own mental health temperature check and  then I understood that ANYBODY could be “that” person. 

I have had my share of run-ins with mental health struggles in my life - internally and with loved ones. I think about how that morning Hayden, Joy and Heather opened up with extreme empathy; they spoke passionately about where mental health stands in their worlds. To witness their bravery and honesty was inspiring.

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I think about the other CEA members in that room who raised their hands and were open and vulnerable with acknowledging their personal mental health hiccups. I think about how I’m sitting here writing this while my own son is talking to a therapist, at seven years old. Mental health struggles are all around us. Every single person is experiencing it in some form. Why, if it is so common is it such a hush hush topic? What would happen if we checked in? What COULD happen if we talked to each other and removed the stigma?

Taking care of your mental health should be as routine as going in for your annual physical (which, to be honest, I’m not doing a great job keeping on top of either). Talking about your bad back with your co-worker, or talking about your checked out mindset on a stressful project - these should be things we are equally comfortable talking about.

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This breakfast let us take one step closer to one less suicide. It took us one step closer to closing the gap between being too tough to talk, and instead being tough enough to talk.

I am so very thankful for my tribe, for my friends and family who are there when I am having my own rough day. When I’m ready to sit against the wall and let a good cry out, they’re there. They’re there to cry it out with me and then reach out their hand to help me stand back up.

The more we talk as industry, the more our industry will talk back. As the thought leaders that make up CEA, our job is to be there to listen to our colleagues and to reach out a hand if they need it.