We probably don’t think that one day a coworker won’t be coming in because he or she took their own life. Unfortunately, the suicide rate is at its highest level in 50 years.
Now, more than ever, we need to take the time to learn some of the signs of suicide and mental illness—especially during World Suicide Prevention Month this September. This month helps draw attention that we can "Be the One to Help Save a Life".” Our families, friends and even employers can each improve their ability not only to identify signs of people who have suicidal thoughts but also be the one to help them.
Suicide is one of the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages, according to the IASP, and responsible for about 800,000 deaths each year—equaling one suicide every 40 seconds.
Unfortunately, in heavy manufacturing and construction industries, the stigma of mental illness can be deadly. These environments, traditionally dominated by men, are not typically places where workers feel comfortable discussing their problems. In the U.S., the construction sector has a suicide rate that is four times higher than the average, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. An additional study concluded that men consisted of more than 75% of suicides in the EU.
In many cases, workplace conditions can contribute to poor mental health with daily exposure to hazards, poor ergonomics, employment insecurity along with increasing work demands. On the business side, poor mental health can lead to decreased productivity, lost revenue, low morale and diminished company reputation.
Change begins at the top with upper management to counteract these trends and conditions. Organizational leaders must foster an environment where employees can feel comfortable discussing their mental health. Every company needs a defined mental health program, communicated and emphasized to all stakeholders, even the contract workers and suppliers who visit your site or are supervised by a subcontractor.
I like the approach to mental health recommended by Business in the Community, a corporate social responsibility organization based in the UK. If we act, starting today, you can improve mental health at your organization.
Create a mental health policy.
Publish a mental health commitment policy or statement of intent. Along with that official policy, designate at least one mental health champion to lead your program. The CEO and top company executives must endorse these plans. Share that policy with all employees frequently and publicly.
Solicit feedback to implement workplace policies.
To make sure your policy is truly beneficial, survey your employees about their mental health needs. Use that feedback to implement the most essential workplace policies. Like with all goals, make sure action items are well defined and measured at least annually. Create a scoring system so that everyone can see quickly how the company is performing toward the objectives.
Change the culture.
Continuous engagement and communication with management regarding mental health, anti-bullying, anti-discrimination and other related policies can change your culture to one of more openness, where people can discuss problems. Don’t underestimate the impact of a healthy work/life balance. As you implement significant mental health initiatives, you’ll help your workers discover a higher purpose to their work, creating more fulfillment, and thus improving overall employee mental health.
Helping everyone, especially direct managers, identify the signs that individuals may be experiencing problems can start someone on a path to getting help. Conduct training on areas, such workplace health, stress risk assessments and strategies for managing illness-related absences. Sometimes, as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline organization recommends, you should ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Asking a direct question can open doors for someone to talk about their emotional pain and to help them take steps to get help.
Encourage mental health openness.
Be open about mental health. Employers can change the traditional stigma about mental health, according to Dr. Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability, Royal Mail Group and co-author of Positive Male Mind: Overcoming Mental Health Problems. “You can get people in leadership positions to talk about their experiences,” Davis says. “That in itself will help to normalize it, but also if you move the discussion...to be more about mental strength instead of mental weakness, I think you’ll get people to open up a lot more.”
Provide support to your workers with mental health challenges—the earlier, the better. Some critical areas of support according to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, include being there for them and helping them connect with others and with the proper resources. Support can start with an informal chat and then move to a more formal meeting if deeper intervention is required. Maintain workers’ privacy, though, with private conversations only.
Provide a pathway to recovery.
For workers having a mental health challenge, describe how the organization will support them in getting help and in returning to work. If absent for a more extended period, keep in touch with them during their absence to monitor their progress and show your support.
Refine and improve.
Monitor your mental health policies and programs through surveys and feedback. Continue training. Remember to include your temporary, remote and contract workforce. In your procurement process, hire qualified contractors who commit to your standards of mental health policies and standards, Davis says.
A formal mental health program can lower absenteeism, reduce turnover, and diminish negative behaviors. One study concluded that every $1 spent in treatment for depression and anxiety returned $4 in better health and ability to work. “Organizations realize additional benefits can include a positive brand reputation, which can help the company with recruitment, onboarding and retention,” Davis says.
Take the time during this month, and regularly, to reflect on how you can implement a comprehensive, well-planned mental health strategy. These efforts will improve employee satisfaction and future business success. Maybe your efforts in better worker mental health will help and support someone who really needs it.
Richard Parke is senior vice president of Global Supplier Services, at Avetta.