His name is Robert. He was smart, driven, kind, unbelievably funny, with great taste in beer. He was my friend, not just my coworker. Eight years ago this summer, he took his own life. I promise you it’s not hyperbole to say that I miss him every single day.
And just like I was, you may be working alongside someone suffering and not know.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8.3 million Americans considered suicide in the past year; 2.2 million made plans. The most common life events that cause depression and suicidal thoughts are grief, sexual abuse, financial problems, remorse, rejection, relationship breakup and unemployment.
There are also five key points of stress – known as the “unmentionables” – that disrupt employees’ lives and make them more likely to have health problems: Caregiving, financial problems, relationship issues/divorce, job stress and sex.
Now that I’m familiar with the points of stress that can trigger mental health issues, I can see more clearly that Robert was suffering. I’m devastated that I’ve seen it too late.
May is Mental Health Month, and this year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is asking all of us – families, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and yes, employers – to proclaim I’m “in” to get inspired, informed and involved around raising awareness for mental health.
Based on NAMI’s call, I offer three humble (and far from expert) tips for employers to destigmatize mental health in the workplace:
Inspired. Data from the International Employee Assistance Professional Association show that at least 75% of employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP); for large companies (more than 5,000 employees) it jumps to 95%. However, employee usage universally hovers at around 5%. Employers can lead by example to publicize EAPs without stigma and inspire workers to expose the “unmentionables.” In fact, studies show that 80% of employees say that they would accept help from their employer to improve an “unmentionable” life situation.
Informed. National mental health statistics are everywhere, but the saturation shouldn’t make them less shocking. I encourage managers in particular to lean in and seek out information on mental health triggers and signs, so that it will be easier to recognize when an employee is struggling. Many managers do not think it is their “place” to reach out to employees when they are dealing with personal issues, but it could be the thing that saves their life. I can personally attest that living with regret is far worse than taking the time to do a little research.
Involved. Partner with your EAP to host an informational session or guest speaker. It doesn’t even have to be this month – even better if it’s a constant drumbeat year-round – but Mental Health Month can be the springboard for knowing more and doing better to let employees know, “I’m here. I care. I can help.”