Written by: Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness each year. 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience symptoms that are externally well hidden but considered clinically significant. Conversely, historical research suggests that up to 90% of individuals who die by suicide may have a mental disorder at the time of death.
Mental illness is the single greatest cause of worker disability worldwide. 62% of missed workdays can be attributed to mental health conditions. Turnover rates are higher for depressed employees and approximately 50% of adults in need do not seek treatment.
About 75% of employees acknowledge they have struggled with an issue that affected their mental health. Yet, 8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking mental health care. That’s a problem for individuals, but it’s also a problem for organizations of any size.
According to the latest research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), suicide is the 12th leading cause of death overall in the United States. Consider this along with the reality that 76% of individuals agree that workplace stress affects their mental health, and addressing suicide is a critical component of workplace wellness.
All industries and occupations can benefit from a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. In order to save lives, suicide is a topic that must be brought out of the darkness. However, most workplaces are relatively unprepared to help employees who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or assist staff following the death of a co-worker by suicide. So, what can employers do to recognize and help mitigate this risk?
Examine the influence and impact of your organization’s generational perspectives on mental health. Mental illness has always existed. Today, the primary difference is awareness. Yet, the generational and cultural perspectives among leadership will play a significant role in moving employee mental health from awareness to action. Any perspective that is an implicit or explicit barrier to helping those in need, can be harmful.
Even in the most progressive workplaces, many employees keep their conditions secret. If the workplace culture is driven by stigma expressed through silence, employees may fear communicating their challenges will jeopardize their reputation. In contrast, environments without appropriate avenues of disclosure place co-workers in situations they are ill equipped to handle.
Unchecked generational differences can affect our ability to both manage and support people effectively. Hidden and pervasive values can silently infiltrate workplace morale, communication, and psychological safety. Consider collaborating with a mental health consultant to explore and develop multigenerational strategies founded on a shared definition of workplace wellness.
Understanding the risk factors for suicide can help identify employees who might be in crisis and in need of help. Experiencing risk factors does not necessarily mean a person will think about or attempt to take their own life. Yet, organizations can implement protective factors that can help reduce risk. These are a few examples of risk factors that may be commonly discussed and easily overlooked among employees:
Major physical illness
Lack of social support and sense of isolation
Loss of relationship(s)
Lack of adequate healthcare
Stigma is associated with asking for help.
Recognizing risk factors is not about maintaining a checklist on each employee’s behaviors. It requires organizations to build authentic relationships with employees that foster mutual respect and trust.
Create opportunities for employee’s social connectedness. Historical models of employee engagement have been centered around company success, retention, and increasing collaboration. While these factors still hold relevance, they can fall flat if employees sense they are disingenuous. True connection works to transform the lived and experienced culture within workplace teams.
There is a human need for connection social safety, and interpersonal relationships. Likewise, research points toward the growing need for purpose and belonging within the workplace culture. When adequately met, these needs also serve as protective factors against stress, burnout, and suicide risk.
Employees that do not have healthy and strong connections at work are more impacted by stress both inside and outside of the workplace. Intermittent experiences of engagement will not adequately build relationships or move the needle toward increased well-being. If the culture on the ground and across the screen is toxic, most measures will simply serve as a band-aid and only symptomatically address issues.
Social connection and safety are two neurobiological needs that all humans have to feel safe – safe in their “tribe”- whether at home, socially or at work. Do not leave it up to chance; use relationship-building tools, simple conversations, and proactive processes to put ongoing, systematic effort into building connections. Two online tools to explore our Quiz Breaker and Water Cooler Trivia.
Design a crisis response plan sensitive to the needs of coworkers, friends, family, and others who might themselves be at risk. Collaborate across various communication teams and work to include resources and language that is diverse and inclusive of the various identities within your employee culture. Also, be mindful of the unique needs of supporting dispersed workers. A well-devised crisis response plan will address areas such as prevention and resources, crisis response procedures, as well as grief resources and postvention protocols.
Postvention is psychological first aid, crisis intervention, and other support offered after a suicide to affected individuals or the workplace. Postventions seek to alleviate the potential effects of suicide death and help map out the immediate and long-term needs of supporting individuals, leadership, and the overall workplace community. For every suicide death, an estimated minimum of six people is affected, not including those who may be indirectly impacted. The Action Alliance has a great online resource for managers called “A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace.”
If you are reading this article and you are currently in crisis, there are options available to help you cope. You can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at any time to connect with a trained crisis counselor. For confidential support available 24/7 for everyone in the U.S., call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org
Each of us has an opportunity to relinquish the rules of engagement and debate. Mental illness is not a matter of right and wrong or a question of weakness versus awareness. Mental illness is a universal dynamic that anyone in humanity may face. Our collective call to action is to widen our lens and help create a more considerate way forward.
To initiate a subjective assessment of your organization’s employee mental health mindset, reflect on the following:
How do the benefits we offer demonstrate a commitment to providing mental health coverage?
What efforts have we taken to equip and train managers to support employee wellbeing?
If a mental health crisis happened today, is our organization prepared at every level?
Identify any current workplace practices that help reduce employee burnout and increase opportunities for connection.
Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Charryse Johnson is an author, speaker, and mental health consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of integrative wellness, neuroscience, and mental health. She is the founder of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness, an integrative therapy practice where personal values, the search for meaning, and the power of choice are the central focus. Dr.Johnson works with clients and organizations across the nation and has an extensive background and training in education, crisis and trauma, neuroscience, and identity development.