Steve Pham

It happened during the Western Pool & Spa Show almost five years ago. Oftentimes, the memory of that morning plays like a broken, flickering film reel in my head, as if it’s happened to someone else’s family and I am a dispassionate viewer. Other times, I relive the moment with searing clarity, and the pain is enough to knock the breath from my lungs and bring me to knees.

My stepson, Aaron, who I had known since he was five years old — that bright, shining boy who had grown into a young man full of humor and promise — was found dead by apparent suicide.

Five years later, I can’t write that sentence without crying. Five years later, my family is still irreparably broken. Five years later, I realize five years is … nothing. They say time heals all wounds but I’ve found that, rather, it’s just a pretty, dressed up way to say that over time, you’ll learn to live with even the most unendurable pain.

Regret and guilt are the two invisible, relentless companions of those impacted by the suicide of a loved one. They are unbearably loud and dog your every step, cloud your every thought: Why didn’t you know he was feeling that way? What could you have done differently? Why weren’t you there when he needed you?

I would give anything to go back to five years ago, and do anything to undo what was done.

I hesitated to include something so personal in a business journal. But we shared a piece in this issue from our sister publication Builder about mental health and the construction industry. Learning that the construction industry — our industry — is so deeply affected by disproportionately high rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide, and knowing that there might be people who may be — right now — in anguish the way my stepson was in the days leading to his death … It’s not something I can let by and stay silent.

If you’re feeling this way, please know: You are not alone. Reach out to someone you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. In the U.S., you can also call 988, a 24-hour suicide and crisis hotline.

For others, know that your support to your colleagues and friends is so, so important, and being open and supportive is the first step towards destigmatizing mental health issues. Be willing to listen without judgment, remind them that you care deeply, and make plans to meet or follow up. Above all, be patient and offer words of encouragement.

The greater the effort we make in removing the stigma of mental health issues, the more people will seek help, leading to a better understanding of these disorders and, ultimately, to acceptance. Please, let’s all do our part to make this the new reality.

Keep the conversation going—sign up for our newsletter for exclusive content and updates. Sign up for free.