The recent suicides of iconic fashion designer Kate Spade and internationally renowned chef Anthony Bourdain renewed attention on a disturbing trend in the U.S.
Deaths by suicide have been increasing across the country for almost two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s recent report showed that suicide rates have jumped over 30 percent in half the states since 1999. Yet many who take their own lives suffer in silence, and often there aren’t warning signs to those close to them. The CDC study reported that 54 percent of people who died by suicide had no known mental health condition, such as depression.
Authorities on workplace culture see those numbers as further evidence that employers should prioritize mental health initiatives for their employees.
“Integrating mental health and wellness practices into an organization makes a huge difference for individuals and the company as a whole,” said Kerry Alison Wekelo, a human resources expert and author of “Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture.” “They know you care. As leaders are looking to improve their workplace, it’s vital to have employee mental health as a big part of the conversation. How employees feel directly impacts their contribution.”
Work is one of the most common sources of stress, according to the American Psychological Association’s latest survey. Stress can lead to mental illness or substance abuse, which can costs employers between $79 and $105 billion annually according to the Center for Prevention and Health Services.
“Unhappy people create a negative work environment, which will cost you financially in absenteeism, decreased productivity and healthcare expenses,” Wekelo said.
Wekelo lists four ways employers can increase awareness about mental health in the workplace and provide help in that regard for their employees:
- Communicate: reach out and listen. “Suffering in silence is sometimes due to the person feeling uncomfortable talking about issues or not having anyone who will listen,” Wekelo said. “Taking time to listen can lead to conflict resolution or to one’s road to recovery, and the confidence they’re not alone.”
- Encourage inspirational activity. “When faced with my own personal stress or with someone coming to me in distress, a question I ask is, ‘What are you doing that inspires you each day?’” Wekelo said. “Then I encourage making a list and completing one activity each day that the person loves.”
- Breaks: Move to improve your mood. Wekelo notes we all get in a funk at work and sometimes feel chained to our desks. “Supervisors can allow more freedom to get outside and walk off some stress, re-charge,” Wekelo said. “Movement is a real way to take care of your own well-being. It can clear your mind and spark creativity.”
- Emphasize nutrition. “Focusing on healthy, balanced food choices supports a healthy mental state,” Wekelo said. “Sometimes in stress we dive right into emotional eating – junk food that makes things worse. Have the employees ask themselves why they react to certain situations that way.”
“Employers need to realize that as much as their employees give them, they need to be there for them on a consistent basis, and not make mental health something no one wants to talk about,” Wekelo said.