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Five years ago, my wife Ananya started volunteering at Crisis Intervention of Houston, an organization handling many mental health issues, including suicide. When she first started, she would often come home crying from hearing some of the struggles of people calling in.

“Nobody wants to end their life,” Ananya said. “Nobody wants to die, but some people are in so much pain that they see it as the only way out. Our job is to try to find them find a way out, whether it’s counseling or addressing a substance abuse problem.”

I greatly misunderstood what it is like to experience mental anguish. I didn’t understand it was no different than any other disease. The most eye-opening thing I learned from my wife is that people with suicidal tendencies struggle against it. As Ananya said, they are fighting the disease but consider suicide because they cannot stop the pain.

Our conversations greatly impacted how I treat the team members at my company. It changed how I think about pushing for vacations and elevating the importance of a work-life balance.

I work for a supply chain risk management company that operates in more than 120 countries. We started spending more time promoting mental health wellness for our employees and clients. Historically, safety is commonly seen as physical instead of emotional.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has set Nov. 19, 2022 (it will be the same date each year going forward), as International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, an event for survivors of suicide loss come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experience. Of course the day is not a celebration but it is an opportune time for you to consider what your company is doing for your employees’ mental health.

Some businesses are now looking at the effects of mental health and wellness on injuries related to ergonomics (workplace efficiency and comfort). Kevin Lombardo is the chief executive officer and president of DORN Companies, an organization specializing in workplace ergonomics and injury prevention.

Lombardo says the psychological reaction to injuries can include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse and trauma. He encourages business leaders to offer consistency, value people, listen to them and always do the “right thing.”

He notes that ergonomic injuries cause $20 billion in direct losses and between $45 and $54 billion in indirect losses for companies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates found the suicide death rate is 18 per 100,000 people. However, among males in heavy industries, such as mining, oil, gas and construction, the suicide rate is much higher, as many as 54 per 100,000.

World Health Organization released findings that show more than 700,000 people take their lives each year and globally, suicide is one of the top 20 leading causes of death. The health organization also estimates depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion every year in lost productivity.

Despite the financial losses, the paper’s authors find most companies have poor health and safety policies; inadequate communication and management practices; little to no support for remote workers; rigid working hours; and unclear organizational objectives.

A May 2022 survey of small and midsize companies found that 96% of employers said they value their employees’ mental health, but only 64% of the employees agreed with their bosses. The survey also shows women overwhelmingly value mental health benefits compared to men (70% compared to 49%).

So what can be done to prevent suicides and promote mental wellness? Your company should consider these five areas: 

  • Emotional support and empathy: Organizations must show greater faith, empathy and consideration to their employees, giving them a reason to believe they will receive care. Executives should find ways to educate and encourage.
  • Intellectual and social engagement: Since stress can be caused by competing business objectives, companies should offer short-term benefits and long-term stability by engaging with employees personally.
  • Work flexibility: Companies should break conventions by offering flexible schedules and reconsidering workplace siloes. These efforts can promote overall wellness for the employee but will also improve productivity and increase revenues for the business. Lombardo also suggests eliminating and substituting job requirements if it means getting the work done in a way that promotes wellness.
  • Mental health openness and support: Businesses should be open about pain points and ask management to encourage open communication and provide confidential mental health programs. Consider offering on-site therapy and a 24/7 helpline.
  • Motivation for remote workers: Executives should find ways to motivate, communicate and provide social incentives to remote workers. Isolation is unnatural and can cause anxiety, depression, discouragement and other problems.

Sometimes you can solve problems in an unlikely way. For instance, Ananya had one caller struggling with tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears that prevented him from driving and sleeping. He was exhausted and nearly in tears because doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing this constant torment.

My wife is not a doctor or a licensed counselor. However, she did some research online and saw that tinnitus could sometimes be caused when a person stops taking antidepressants. The caller had recently stopped taking his medication. The ringing stopped when he started taking his prescribed medicine again.

“He was just so grateful,” said Ananya. “I felt I helped someone today. I made a difference.”

Ananya said every employee should have at least one person to go to about mental health struggles. She said all that is needed sometimes is someone to help them take “baby steps” to accomplish their goals or eliminate their stress. She added employees must have access to support groups and proper medication.

Personally, I think being able to talk to someone is critical. As business leaders, we should direct employees to seek help or support for their mental health, whether from a family member, friend, counselor or hotline. We need to make sure they understand we can manage the workload so that they can make time for what they need in their life. This approach will help our businesses and our employees have an opportunity to not only survive but to thrive.


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