Talking About It –
Dismantling the Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health
Modern Assistance Opening the Door to Emotional Wellness in the Construction Industry


The end of May brings Mental Health Month to a close. However, emotional wellness is an ongoing mission for NECA and IBEW in partnership with our dedicated Modern Assistance Programs. Based in Quincy, MA, Modern Assistance is NECA and Local 103’s employee assistance provider, and they are always on call, providing fast, expert, and confidential support to members grappling with depression, substance abuse, and other emotional and mental health challenges.


We know mental health, substance use, and work-life balance issues cost American businesses millions of dollars per year in lost work time, reduced and impaired productivity, and decreased morale. The emotional toll on individuals and their families is immeasurable.


Modern Assistance provides our personalized Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with tailored services to employees and dependents for each company we work with – this includes everyone NECA and IBEW contractors and your entire workforce. “We consider ourselves a partner with Local 103 & the NECA Contractors,” says President and Chief Executive John Christian of the company, which has provided employee assistance and benefits management to New England’s construction and service sector trade unions for 35 years. “In effect, we are the members of Local 103’s insurance carve-out for emotional health, providing 24-hour, 7-day-a-week support for members and their dependents.”


“The most important thing we do for members is access to therapy – I call it ‘on-demand’ therapy,” adds program director Michael Gamsby. “You call us with a problem, and we’ll get you help right away, scheduling an in-person or face-to-face telehealth appointment with a counselor in an hour, sometimes faster.”


Modern Assistance is our collective resource when it comes to onsite training and counseling. They provide hundreds of toolbox talks, in-office and onsite trainings for NECA contractors and your teams.


On one level, Modern Assistance’s facility and expertise with real-time crisis support speak to its value to the Local 103 rank and file. A deeper look illuminates the profound necessity for the kind of care and resources the Modern Assistance team provides. Workers in construction have one the highest rates of suicide of any industry, and numbers are surging nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


The factors behind the numbers are many and embedded in the demands of the work. Construction is a high-stress field, and stress can lead to using substances to cope. From its inception, Modern Assistance has helped members struggling with alcohol and alcohol-adjacent issues (such as domestic abuse), but increasingly, the ‘coping’ mechanism arrives with a doctor’s prescription.


When traumatic events occur in the workplace, it is important for the safety and well-being of employees to have immediate and effective intervention services. As such, Modern Assistance is usually the contractor’s first call when there is reasonable suspicion or any indication that one of our team members is struggling. In accordance with our NECA/IBEW Workplace Safety Program, MAP assesses each case, works with the individuals and clears them to return to work when needed. Modern Assistance provides staff training, critical incident debriefing, and support in addition to client-centered follow-up care following a workplace trauma.


“In the building, trades will get injured, and you will go to the doctor,” Christian explains. “Unfortunately, we see the degree on the wall and tend to do what the doctor tells us. We strongly emphasize to our members to ask five questions. ‘What are you prescribing, what are the side effects, is it addictive, how long will I be on it, and is there an alternative?’ It’s not the doctor’s responsibility. It’s your body.”


And while the opiate crisis has grabbed peak headlines in recent years, Modern Assistance has seen a notable shift in the issues bringing members to its services.


Said Gamsby: “Opiates are still a problem, no question, but I’d say 75 percent of the calls we get today are about anxiety, depression, life issues.”


John picks up the point: “Remember you’re talking about working people with families dealing with rising interest rates, a highly contentious political scene, an economy that’s in question. Coming out of a pandemic with people worried about their jobs and their health. There are a lot of stressors out there, not only in the workplace but at home.”


The pressures of quarantine exacted a lasting toll on the mental health of workers and their families. Still, Gamsby and Christian noted an unexpected positive rising from the ordeal. “We’re seeing people who are a lot more comfortable talking about their feelings and what they’re going through than in the past, and that’s a good thing. The first step toward addressing a problem is to talk about it.”


“Talking about it” is a big part of what Modern Assistance encourages, with a busy employee and supervisor training schedule at job sites throughout the region. An essential part of these programs is helping site supervisors to recognize signs of anxiety and emotional distress in their workforce and to connect them to the support they need.


“We reach out to workers from the time they are apprentices and let them know these services are available,” John said, adding that Modern Assistance has a relationship with 103 and NECA Boston that goes back decades. “People know who we are and what we provide. They know they can call us 24/7 and that communication is confidential. There’s that extra layer of trust.”


The goal is to destigmatize mental health and get people talking and advocating for their own wellness. “Mental health issues are common – more common than they used to be. There’s no need to suffer in silence. We’re here to help.”


Modern Assistance is on a mission to transform lives with its dedicated team of professionals, personalized employee programs, counseling, trainings and more. We know addressing mental health is a strategic imperative for our industry and we are committed to ensuring our NECA Contractors and IBEW partners have the tools to do so.


Need help? Don’t wait! Call the MAP main office at Local: (617) 774-0331 or Toll-Free: (800) 878-2004. There is someone there to answer your call 24/7. Or visit the MAP webpage.