Tag Archives: bernard dyme

Breaking the Silence on Mental Health

Shh, it’s time for another round of “let’s discuss depression or suicide in the workplace.” That’s right, shh. After all, we aren’t supposed to discuss these issues. If we do, someone else may try to commit suicide. If we hush up the problem, maybe it will go away.

So, help me to understand why we tolerate this silence with mental illness and not with any other medical condition. I think it is because mental health is a bit more mysterious and scarier than most other conditions.

But mental health does account for a large percentage of the costs related to lost productivity ($51 billion). It generates direct costs of treatment of $26 billion a year[1] — and “absence, disability and lost productivity related to mental illness cost employers more than four times the cost of employee medical treatment.”[2]

We need to get over our fear and get the discussions out in the open. Only then will we have a chance to break the cycle.

The goal of breaking the silence is already occurring on the high school level and is showing results. I realize that this is a different population, teen-agers, but talking about it really does matter in prevention. This most recently occurred in a high school in Crystal Lake, Ill., after two teen-age friends took their lives. The school and community leaders made a point of getting information to other students about the warning signs so that they could possibly identify those in danger and encouraged parents to talk with their teens about their grief. Leaders also provided grief counselors onsite and gave the students different options for grieving, which included holding vigils, providing groups and allowing for other forums of expression.

This is an excellent model that can be adapted for the workplace in partnership with your employee assistance program (EAP). Here are some things employers can do for their workplaces after a suicide:

  • Openly discuss suicide and offer grief groups to anyone directly or indirectly involved with the people who took their lives. Make it okay to talk about the suicide. For more information on steps employers might take, go to “A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace.”
  • Provide information about the warning signs so that employees can help identify others who might be at risk. Make sure that employees and their family members get information about resources that they can access for themselves, their family members or other co-workers. And stress the confidential nature of these sources. A great first step is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK (8255)).

The best defense, however, is a good offense. To encourage prevention, I suggest the following:

  • Create a “mental health/wellness” friendly workplace that involves openly discussing mental health and stress and making sure that employees know that there is confidential help available.
  • Provide employees and managers with training on signs of depression, anxiety, etc. and encourage them to seek help if they or a colleague is showing any of these signs.
  • Have your EAP visible through consistent promotional efforts using print, email and social media.
  • Make sure that the company’s benefits plans have good mental health coverage.

I have been lucky enough to have spent the last 36 years in the field helping individuals and organizations become more open to dealing with psychological issues that may interfere with their professional or personal growth. And I have been amazed at how successful treatment can be when the issue is confronted head-on.

As leaders in the insurance industry, those of you who subscribe to this blog are trusted advisers to the leadership and decision makers in organizations of all kinds. I therefore implore you to use these relationships to encourage them to face mental health in an open and forthright manner. Only when people are able to openly seek out help for mental health related concerns in the same manner that they seek out medical treatment for other issues will we be successful.

[1] Managed Care Magazine (2006, Spring) Depression in the Workplace Cost Employers Billions Each Year: Employers Take Lead in Fighting Depression.

[2] Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, A Mentally Healthy Workforce—It’s Good for Business, (2006), www.workplacementalhealth.org.

Get the Word Out: Ask for Help!

We need to focus on the root causes of suicide and help people feel okay about receiving help. There is no better place to do this than in the workplace, and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, which gives us the opportunity to spread the word.

It’s important to understand some of the antecedents, like depression, because this is where the cure lies and where, because of our misunderstanding and fear, we often don’t act. Here are some statistics from the American Association of Suicidology that should open everyone’s eyes:

  • Nine out of 10 people who die by suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Only three out of 10 people who die by suicide received mental health services in the year before they died.
  • Depression is the most prevalent mental health disorder — 20.9 million American adults suffer from a depressive illness in any given year.
  • Treatment for depression is effective 60% to 80% of the time.

A 2007 study featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that depressed employees, who received “enhanced care,” defined as care management and optional psychotherapy, worked longer weeks and demonstrated greater job retention than other groups. This led to an annual average value of $1,800 per worker, which is estimated to be greater than the cost of “the outreach program and the roughly 10 additional mental-health specialty visits made by subjects in the treatment group.”

I realize that there are a lot of statistics that might make you zone out, so let me make what I am saying perfectly clear.

Educating the workforce about mental health and depression so that folks know that it is perfectly okay to seek help should be every employer’s goal. It is the right thing to do. It will also lead to higher productivity and lower safety and healthcare costs.

Once people feel comfortable admitting they have a problem, they will be more likely to seek help, which leads to the next thing employers or insurers should do. They need to have some sort of behavioral health service that will do a confidential but thorough assessment so that they can facilitate a referral for the right kind of assistance for each person in need. An employee assistance program (EAP) can help in both aspects of this process; education and assessment/referral/follow up.

This year, make National Suicide Prevention week the time when you kick off the process of education — and make sure that this is the beginning, not the end, of your efforts.

For assistance in doing this, visit the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Workplace Task Force.