Mental Health

Preventing Suicide is a Community Responsibility


Suicide, as the result of unbearable stress in the workplace, is not relegated to the corporate world, but is occurring at an alarming rate in the private sector as well. In her recent New York Times article about the suicide epidemic in the French farming industry, Pamela Rougerie, writes about an issue, which I assert encompasses many sectors and professions.

In the chapter, “No way out: Mark’s story,” in my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I expose the devastation that suicide wreaks with close friends and family, who quite innocently stood by not realizing the life of a close friend was hanging in perilous balance. Signs of severe depression too often go unnoticed.

As uncomfortable as it may be, we need to intervene when red flags appear. An intervention can be as simple as a kind question or a gentle offer to lend an ear to someone who is suffering. Often this small spontaneous act makes all the difference, and it can save a life.

This is why articles about suicide can help reduce the stigma, cause bystanders to reflect on what people are going through, and encourage them to intervene before it is too late. As community members, we need to begin to recognize when someone is acting abnormally and needs help extricating him or herself from the desolate lonely space in which they are suffering.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Addiction Reaches Every Corner of Society

The University of Southern California is reeling under allegations of campus drug use by the former medical school dean, Dr. Carmen A. Puliafito, who has been fired. People are calling this situation a scandal, which it is in the way the university covered it up, but I view this as more of a tragedy. Addiction is an issue that impacts almost every organization and every walk of life. It is an illness that is poorly understood and even more poorly treated. Addiction never happens in a vacuum. There are always indicators that there is an issue. What is lacking are appropriate interventions. If a school of medicine fails to understand this, how in the world can we possibly expect other organizations to do so?

 Last week, I blogged about the tragic death of a lawyer who was lost to addiction. It is incumbent on every organization to contact professionals who deal with addictions in order to recognize the indicators, understand the positive methods by which to intervene at the earliest possible stage, and learn how to support the individual. Bystanders, friends and family also have an obligation here. They almost always know there is something amiss. To them I offer the same advice—educate yourself. The life you save may be someone very close to you.

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

Photo credit: USC

Employers Ignore Smoldering Workplace Issues at Their Own Peril

We’ve been riding a wave of senseless attacks recently, but the latest workplace shooting near Orlando, FL had indicators that had they been heeded, might have prevented tragedy.

Yesterday a former employee of Fiamma Inc. killed himself and five former colleagues. I’ve written extensively about the smoldering powder keg that is the emotionally compromised employee in my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. Employees who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to bullying at work can be emotionally fragile and dangerous to themselves and/or others if they don’t have an opportunity to receive mental health care and address workplace issues. There certainly were indicators that something was wrong with this individual given that he was arrested in 2014 for workplace violence, even though no charges were filed.  Former colleagues reported other incidents of violence as well, which led to his being fired.

Whether the shooter was motivated by unresolved issues of workplace bullying or had other problems, it was the responsibility of the company to help him find help in order to protect all of its employees. No amount of cost saving or shareholder appeasing should come before the very lives of those who make the company run.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Response to NYT Piece on Depression in the Medical Profession

This article is extremely brave in the way it stands up to social shame surrounding mental issues. However, it’s important to note that while depression and mental illness are highly stigmatized in the medical profession, stigma and fear of reporting are not unique to any one profession. Some professions may have more humiliation associated with mental illness than others, but the issue is pervasive across industries and sectors of the economy, and the negative impacts on organizational structures are the same. By creating psychologically safe work environments where employees struggling with mental health concerns can disclose feelings without fear, organizations will benefit along with their employees. Read the full article at the New York Times.

Art Credit: Jody Barton for NYT

Response to "Saving Corporate Cash by Hiring a Chief Health Officer"

I agree with the suggestion that businesses should take on Chief Health Officers to improve employee quality of life. However, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that there’s more to “quality of life” than physical health. Agus does make mention of workplace stress, but over 120,000 annual deaths in North America are related to workplace pressure. If Chief Health Officers are to become an industry norm, there must be a greater emphasis on creating psychologically healthy workplaces, in addition to physically healthy ones. Check out the full article at The Wall Street Journal.

Photo Credit: Getty Images for WSJ

Drawing the Connection Between School and Work Related Stress

According to this great New York Times article, the pressure to succeed is making school children experience anxiety and depression at alarmingly high rates and alarmingly young ages. The data in this article begs the question – if children in school are experiencing these levels of stress, what effects are our workplaces having on us? Last year, a Harvard study found that over 120,000 annual deaths in North America can be attributed to workplace stress in some way. If our school cultures are focused on getting into colleges above all else, as reflected in this article, then what are our workplace cultures focused on, and how is it impacting employees?

Art Credit: Lale Westvind for NYT

My response to "Workplace bullying may increase risk of suicidal thoughts"

Because of the stigma associated with suicide, the statistics may not reflect the magnitude of this problem, as often the deaths are not reported as such. An example of this: I gave a talk on bullying in the workplace and a man came up to me and asked if he could give me a call. He said what I described in my talk was exactly what his wife was going through. They both assumed it just came with the territory and there was nothing that they could do about it. Ten days later he called me, in tears. He told me that his wife committed suicide two days earlier. In deference to her memory, and other members of the family, her death was labeled "died suddenly.” Now when I look at the obituaries and notice the term "died suddenly" and it is a premature death - it gives rise to the question.

Read the article I am commenting on here.