Tag Archives: mental wellness

6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides

This year, for World Suicide Prevention Day, the theme is “Reaching Out to Save Lives” – a message all employers can use to let people know that everyone can play a role in suicide prevention. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force members and the organizations they serve offer the top six things workplaces can do during the month of September to make prevention a health and safety priority:

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  1. Offer a Leadership Proclamation: “Not Another Life to Lose”

Members of executive leadership can take bold and visible positions declaring suicide prevention and mental health promotion critical workplace concerns. This proclamation can be in the form of a newsletter to employees or a video on a website.

  1. Highlight Mental Health Resources

Host a brown bag lunch program each day for the week. Invite employee assistance program (EAP) representatives or other local mental health professionals to offer educational session on stress, work-life balance, coping with depression or other related topics.

Offer a mental health fair where local suicide prevention, mental health or other wellness resources share more information and employees get a “passport” stamped for each one they visit. Completed passports go into a drawing for a prize.

Send resources to employees such as:

  1. Launch a Mental Wellness Task Force

A true comprehensive and sustained public health approach to prevention will take more than an awareness week or one-time training. To create significant change, a more strategic approach is needed. Start by pulling together a small group of stakeholders – people whose job titles reflect some level of relevance to this issue (i.e., wellness, HR, risk management, safety) and others who are passionate about prevention because it has touched their lives personally. Their task? To identify culturally relevant areas of strength and vulnerability for suicide within the organization and to develop a strategic approach to change.

Here are some resources:

  1. Leverage Social Media

During this week, companies can join the international conversation by posting on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Sample posts:
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] makes #suicideprevention a health and safety priority #WSPD15
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] We are doing our part to #preventsuicide during #NSPW. Everyone can play a role!
  • Hashtags:
    • National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 7-13)
      • #NSPW
      • #NSPW15
      • #SuicidePrevention
    • World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10)
      • #WSPD
      • #WSPD15
    • Workplace
      • #WorkplaceMH
      • #WorkingMinds
    • Guidelines on social media and mental health.
  1. Honor Suicide Loss With Candle-Lighting Ceremony

How companies respond to the aftermath of suicide matters greatly. Grief and trauma support, thoughtful communication and compassionate leadership can help a workforce make the transition from immobilization to a bonded community.

Here are some resources:

  1. Donate to or Volunteer for Local or National Suicide Prevention Organizations

Engaging in community prevention efforts is a great way for employees to give back and to get to know the local resources available. Corporate investments in prevention programs and research will help us get ahead of the problem. Get involved!

Here are some resources:

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.

How to Be Visionary on Mental Health

Once upon a time, there was a national leader who said, “To remain as I am is impossible. I must die, or get better.”

Fearing that he might take his life by suicide, his friends confiscated his knives, guns, and razors — anything he could use to harm himself.

This leader? None other than Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln called his mental health challenge “melancholy”; today, we would call it a life-threatening depression.

Because of his strength, Lincoln was able to disclose his despondency and received the support he needed from friends and colleagues. If he were alive today, he’d likely be letting others know they are not alone and that getting to the other side of one’s darkest despair is a journey worth taking.

As someone heavily involved in the suicide-prevention movement, I can think of no more compelling call to action to our leaders than to lead boldly about their lived experience with overcoming mental health challenges. Stories of hope and recovery are unparalleled in their ability to shift culture and eliminate the stigma that prevents so many from getting the help that can save lives.

One in four people – at any given time – are experiencing a mental health condition like depression, bipolar illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or substance abuse, and many leaders have experienced these challenges, either firsthand or by supporting someone they love. Yet most leaders remain closeted about these experiences, succumbing to the stigma that keeps us all stuck in isolation and suffering.

This needs to change.

When leaders are able to be vocal, visible and visionary in sharing stories of their own recovery or experiences supporting others, magic happens. When they fight for the mental wellness of people who follow them, leaders can spark the hope that others need.

Yes, there is risk, but the reward of leading the way through this particular darkness is so great. I know. I speak from experience.

I am a clinical psychologist and hold multiple leadership positions in suicide prevention. Yet, after a perfect storm of life stressors, I experienced an episode of major depression in the spring of 2012. It crippled me. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I had daily panic attacks that left me heaving. As I was going through this, I had a parallel process. On one hand, I worried about how bad it would get. After watching my brother Carson spiral down in his ultimately fatal depression, I was scared about my own suicide risk. I was also worried about how my vulnerable state would reflect on my ability to maintain my responsibilities. On the other hand, I believed that not only would I get through the depression eventually but that, when I did, I would publicly share my experience. Four months after I pulled through, I wrote a piece that connected my recovery to running a marathon — persisting through the pain until hope of a new reality emerges. I remember watching my finger hover over the button as I made the final decision to publish it, still worrying about how others would respond. Within minutes, I received support from around the world. People let me know how my transparent testimony gave them hope for their own recovery. I felt for the first time a new level of credibility that comes with vulnerability.

Look at those in major leadership roles who have taken the same risk with the same reward. Just to name a few…

  • Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik spoke candidly about his depression and how ultimately it changed him for the better both as a human being and as a politician. He was elected for a second term.
  • Mental health challenges touched icons like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom attempted suicide as teens or young adults and also experienced depression in adulthood. Many credit their angst as the fuel behind the movements they led.
  • Former congressman Patrick Kennedy tells his story of bipolar disorder and drug addiction and advocates for legislation to eliminate mental health disparities.

Nassir Ghaemi says in A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness that “the sanest of CEOs may be just right during prosperous times, allowing the past to predict the future. But during a period of change, a different kind of leader — quirky, odd, even mentally ill — is more likely to see business opportunities that others cannot imagine.”

When establishing cultural norms, all eyes are on leadership. If leaders say one thing and yet behave differently, the message is loud and clear. What people experiencing mental health challenges crave are role models who have walked the walk of despair and are now thriving. They want to know there is not only hope of getting to the other side of the long dark night of the soul, but that the struggle will be worth the fight. That perhaps their new insights to recovery, persistence and empowerment will help them achieve their dreams.

Rather than live in fear, leaders can boldly advocate for dignity for people who are experiencing mental health challenges. Leaders’ voices of compassion and courage will help accelerate the tipping of the scale of change and help to save the lives of millions suffering in silence.

It takes great courage to be vulnerable. Everyone is touched by mental health challenges; we just don’t know this about each other. When leaders are able to acknowledge this, compassionately relate their own experiences and call for change, transformation happens.

Be bold.