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A Call to Action on Mental Health

The 6th US/Canada Forum on Workplace, Mental Health and Productivity, held in Denver, produced a call to action on how employers can make suicide prevention a health and safety priority.

Almost 70 CEOs and community influencers participated in the five-hour forum, including senior representatives from RK Mechanical, the U.S. Postal Service, Wells Fargo, Bank of the West, Denver Fire Department and Level (3).

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper welcomed the guests and applauded their efforts to expand their knowledge and their willingness to take what they learn back to their networks. “Suicide affects three families per day in Colorado, and Colorado is consistently one of the 10 highest states in suicide rates,” the governor said. “The first step in prevention is creating an environment where people can talk about it, including the workplace. Our goal is to build support, and the workplace provides a huge opportunity for prevention efforts.”

Larissa Herda, the host and CEO of tw telecom, shared her own experience around family members whose struggles with mental health illnesses have led to suicide. She also echoed the governor’s hope in seeing the workplace as a safe environment for people to feel like they have support and can access help. “Through sharing my own story, I have opened the doors for others in our company to share theirs.”

Participants discussed both the human and economic costs of suicide deaths and attempts. International mental health and suicide prevention experts from the U.S., Canada and Australia shared several leadership and programmatic tactics that have helped, such as strategic communication, skill training and mental health resources.

“We need to promote the human dignity of people living with mental health conditions. The opposite of isolation is connectedness. The opposite of despair is hope. As leaders and organizations, you can help create these protective factors in the workplace,” said Eduardo Vega, executive director, Mental Health Association of San Francisco.

Joel Bosch, chief operating officer of eCD Market, said, “Why do we not talk about mental health in the workplace? Myths and stigma. Business leaders are our community gatekeepers but are often not trained appropriately. There is no way to break stigma through silence. Business leaders are often champions of a cause, and have the ability to create significant change.”

Stand Up for Robin Williams. . .

On Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, we lost Robin Williams. He was a brilliant actor and comic…a man most of us grew up with. We knew him as a funny guy, an alien, a genie, a nanny, an inspirational teacher and so much more. We also knew he struggled with depression, addiction and possibly bipolar disorder.

Collectively, we grieve for his loss. Williams had an uncanny ability to make us smile. Even when playing more dramatic roles, he brought light, laughter and inspiration to our lives.

We grieve, too, for thousands of other people who have died by suicide. Fathers, mothers, sisters, daughters, sons, brothers…suicide isn’t just about the person who dies. Its painful ripples spread far and wide, affecting every one of us.

We believe every suicide death is preventable, that not another person should die in desperation and alone. Those with behavioral health challenges like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have suicide rates 10 to 15 times greater than the general population. Yet, millions survive, and many find a way to thrive. Recovery is possible!

The bitter irony of Williams’ death was the support he gave for another disease that takes lives: cancer. Williams was a strong backer of St. Jude’s Research Center and Stand Up to Cancer. He would visit cancer patients, sometimes in their own homes, bringing joy into lives that would invariably be cut short, just as Williams’ was.

The cancer prevention movement has been so effective in getting people involved – in prevention, in fundraising, in advocacy.  Now many people – whether or not they’ve been directly affected by cancer – Stand Up in solidarity to help fight the battle. They stand shoulder to shoulder with people who are fighting for their lives? They stand to honor those who’ve passed with dignity. They got people like Robin Williams to lean in, and say, “I care. What can I do to help?”

The suicide prevention movement can learn a lot from the successes of the cancer prevention movement.

How has the cancer prevention movement achieved its goals? It advanced science and promoted stories of hope and recovery. Those who want to stand up for suicide prevention can do this, too.

As Dr. Sean Maguire in the movie “Good Will Hunting,” Williams counsels Matt Damon’s Will Hunting on life, love and grief before telling him, “Your move, chief.”

Now it’s our move. Let’s honor Williams’ memory, and that of every person who has died by suicide, by making suicide a thing of the past.  What can you do to Stand Up for suicide prevention?

  • Reach out and ask others who may be going through difficult life challenges, “Are you okay? What can I do to support you?” Let them know they are not alone and that you can help them link to resources.
  • Promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) everywhere – schools, workplaces, faith communities, neighborhoods.
  • Volunteer and participate in suicide prevention work like community walks, town hall meetings, crisis line support and more.
  • Donate to suicide prevention organizations.
  • Learn about the real facts about suicide and the strategies that have been shown to prevent it.
  • Then bring others into the circle – your healthcare providers, your employer, your educators and so on. Elevate the conversation and make suicide prevention a health and safety priority.
  • Ask your healthcare plan and provider to join you.

As a society, we’ve stood up for so many other important things. It’s time for us to stand up to suicide.

When we all stand up and move together, we create a movement. Together, our voices can create significant change in systems, in policy, in funding and in the general view of suicide. We can restore dignity and offer hope and empowerment and save lives.

This article was written by Sally Spencer-Thomas with four other members of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention:

  • David Covington, LPC, MBA, Recovery Innovations and Zero Suicide Advisory Group
  • John Draper, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Way Forward Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force
  • Mike Hogan, Hogan Health Services and Zero Suicide Advisory Group
  • Eduardo Vega, Mental Health Association of San Francisco and The Way Forward Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force

#standup2suicide #zerosuicide #wayforward