Lending a helping hand at work

Mary Cornforth Cawood
Mary Cornforth Cawood

It’s estimated that one in four adults in the United States exhibit symptoms of mental health or substance abuse disorders. Sadly, only 29 percent of those with depression contacted a mental health professional in the last year.  

It might come as no surprise, then, the leading cause of absenteeism in the U.S. is depression and the resulting lost productivity totals an estimated $30 billion a year.

Depression is hard to talk about, especially at work. The stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide often prevents us from asking the simple question, “Are you OK?” Even if we do ask, our question often isn’t answered honestly. Fear of judgment or what could happen to jobs prevents the reply, “I’m not OK. I think I need help.”   

The consequences of this omission are tragic. In 2014, 248 individuals attempted suicide and 35 completed suicide in Mesa County, numbers significantly higher than statewide averages. It’s time we recognize depression and suicide are everyone’s business.

What can we do as employers, colleagues and friends to reach out to someone we’re worried about? I’m sure you can think of a time when you were concerned about someone but didn’t know what to say. 

The Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation offers guidance and training for individuals and workplaces that teach the warning signs of mental distress. Brief S uicide I ntervention T raining (BSIT) teaches suicide awareness and prevention skills in a class designed to be presented in a workplace setting. The training is based on a comprehensive two-day training, but scaled down to 60 minutes to allow more businesses to offer this to their staffs. The free training is available by appointment,

The Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation  also offers a 60-minute B rief S uicide A wareness T raining (BSAT) that focuses mostly on statistics and “why” and includes 10 minutes of intervention suggestions, another valuable opportunity for the workplace. For information on these trainings, click here 

Mind Springs Health offers Mental Health First Aid, a program designed to help people understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. After completing the eight-hour course, participants will have the skills needed to respond to a variety of situations — helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who might be suicidal or assisting someone who has overdosed. 

If you work with someone you’re concerned about, Mental Health America offers tips for employers on how to support people living with mental illness in the workplace .  

On a more basic level, it’s possible to promote wellness in the workplace. What does a healthy workplace look like? A productive atmosphere, livable wages, reasonable accommodations, health coverage and benefits, open communication and employee accountability all contribute to a healthier work environment. Want to see how your workplace stacks up? Take the online Mental Health America work health survey .

Here at the Mesa County Health Department, we’re participating in mindful May.  Our health promotions team engages staff by offering different activities throughout the month, including team building exercises, physical activities and even a joke of the day to lighten things up. Sometimes it’s the small things that put a smile on someone’s face. These are activities that can be offered all year long.

 As individuals, there are things we can do to support our own mental health as well. Getting plenty of rest, exercising and taking some time for yourself each day are all important to mental wellness. For tips on how to boost your mental health and create a work-life-balance visit the Mental Health America .

Mental health is important. Let’s make sure it’s everyone’s business.