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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.”