Suicidal Thoughts Are More Common Than You Might Think: How Workplaces Can Help Reduce The Stigma

Kelly Greenwood | Founder & CEO, Mind Share Partners

Employers must not only provide mental health benefits, but also build cultures that normalize what it looks like to have a mental health condition.

This article was originally published on Forbes.

Many of us would want a doctor to pull the plug if we were in a hopeless, vegetative state with a terrible quality of life. Only a physical shell of our former selves, unable to think, work or experience basic pleasures, we would consider life no longer worth living. The same was true twice in my life when my generalized anxiety disorder spiraled into debilitating depression, in large part due to work-related challenges.

After about a month of being virtually nonfunctional and unrecognizable from my normal high-performing self, I wanted everything to end. Not because I didn’t want to live, but because I didn’t want to live like that. My mind was my most prized possession. I was hollow—unable to feel much of anything, make basic decisions or craft even simple emails, much less do what was required of me at work. This was not me. I was proactively seeking help and following my regimen of therapy and medication. In a move that was completely out of character, I even tried hypnosis upon my psychiatrist’s last-ditch suggestion since all other efforts continued to fail.

I didn’t know anyone who had gone through something like this and come out of it, particularly a successful professional. Nothing was making me better, and I had run out of hope. Suicidal thoughts consumed me. Fortunately, I found the right medicine and mastered the skills I learned in therapy, allowing me to return to work and thrive, but it took much longer than I would have liked. Not everyone is so lucky.

Each September we recognize Suicide Prevention Month, but this year, it seems to have a different resonance, given the high-profile tragedies this summer, when we lost Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade—celebrities, but also powerful business leaders. If I hadn’t experienced serious suicidal thoughts myself, I would have thought they were outliers. In fact, 123 Americans die by suicide every day, resulting in 44,965 deaths each year. We just don’t hear about them since they aren’t famous. Those statistics don’t even take into account the many more Americans who experience suicidal thoughts—4% of adults in 2016 and 8.8% of adults ages 18 to 25. The rates of both suicide and suicidal thoughts are rising.

So why does this matter for workplaces? Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for adults ages 25 to 34 and the fourth among adults 35 to 54. In other words, those in their prime working years. Work-related factors such as difficult working conditions and unemployment can increase the risk for suicide.

Workplaces can do their part to help their employees by creating healthy environments and reducing the stigma around mental health.