This past Saturday we honored World Suicide Prevention Day. As a survivor of suicide loss of an immediate family member, this day is particularly important to me. Suicide is a significant reality in Canada, with almost 4,000 Canadians dying as a result of suicide each year. This is 4,000 too many!
Mental Health, Workplace Wellness and Suicide Prevention
There is a lot of work in front of us if we are going to prevent and eliminate suicide in Canada. A lot of individuals I encounter on a regular basis have no idea that they are in a high risk group for suicide. In Canada our highest risk groups include youth, middle-aged men, Aboriginal, First Nations and Metis peoples and members of the LGBTQ community. Just today I was teaching a class of 24 people, of which approximately half were middle-aged men. The topic of suicide came up and when I informed the class about the middle-aged men being in one of the highest risk groups for suicide in Canada, there was a lot of surprise in the room.
Working people in Canada spend more time at work than any other single environment. As such, workplaces can play a significant and important role in helping to prevent suicide. We know that a significant percentage of individuals who act out suicidal behavior and attempt suicide are dealing with an underlying mental health issue. Moreover, we know that almost one in two Canadians will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. This is no small matter.
Corporate Mental Health and Executive Coaching
We have a responsibility in the context of workplaces to pay attention to mental health and to promote psychological health and safety. It’s becoming more and more frequent now that in the context of my coaching with senior executive, we end up in raw and authentic conversations about mental health and even discussions on suicide. Too many senior leaders are working alone at the top, and don’t have people in their network that they can be honest with about their depression, anxiety, substance misuse, sleepless nights and even hopelessness leading to suicidal thoughts.
Nobody hires their coach to talk about their mental health – they initially hire the coach for other priorities such as business growth. However, once that coach-client trusting relationship is built, voila…now we get real. I would have to say that once I have authentic trusting relationships with my clients, probably close to 50% of what my clients want coaching on is linked in some way to their mental health.
If you are a senior executive, what are you doing to manage your mental health? Do you have a coach or a mental health professional involved in your life to talk about the realities of stress and the resulting declining mental health, or do you simply isolate from others and end up going it alone? What kind of culture are you promoting in your company? Do people feel safe to talk about issues of health and wellness including their psychological health and safety, or are these issues kept hidden in the dark, because of the fear of reprisal and stigma.
Cameron’s Call to Action
- Check in with your HR department on your actuals in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover in your company. Direct your HR leads to undertake some internal confidential research to find out how many people miss work as a result of emotional or mental health problems.
- Equipped with this data (you will be shocked), make a determination to promote workplace mental health, remembering that the research tells us that employers who do a good job of promoting mentally health workplaces save between $5,000 and $10,000 per employee per year. Consider starting by adopting Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
- Consider (honestly and authentically) your own mental health. Do you sometimes experience declining or poor mental health? When you do, how do you get support? Do you have a coach or mental health professional involved in your life, either for prevention or for your own recovery? If not, get one so that when it’s needed most, you have a relationship in place with a professional who can help you.