Mental health matters: Protective factors help

Mary Cornforth
Mary Cornforth

Mental health and suicide are both topics that can make us feel uncomfortable. We don’t like talking about them. And talking about mental health and suicide prevention in the workplace is even harder.

When you’re concerned about someone, what do you say? Are you invading their privacy? Threatening their job security? Are you afraid you won’t know how to respond if a colleague says they need help? These are questions we all ponder, and the answers aren’t straightforward. It can feel easier to avoid the topic altogether. But if we increase our comfort in talking about mental health and addressing suicide, we can create a safer workplace and help people facing the unseen struggles that occur. 

Mental health matters and affects every aspect of our lives. It’s more than a diagnosed condition. It’s also about stress, insecurities and coping skills. When we struggle mentally, it’s difficult to handle even the most mundane tasks, let alone perform our jobs and be present for our families.

How can we create a work culture in which mental health matters?  Develop workplace protective factors that promote good mental health.

Meaningful work that staff feels good about is an important protective factor. When employees are engaged and feel like their work makes a difference, they feel better about themselves.

Learn to recognize signs of distress. If you notice someone is stressed and just not themselves, acknowledge them. A simple question like, “Are you doing OK?” can make all the difference. You don’t have to have all the answers. Listening is a powerful support. You can also encourage them to practice self-care. It’s okay to step back from what feels overwhelming and regroup.

Consider offering on-site mental health training to employees. Local trainings available to businesses include: Question, Persuade, Refer (one-hour training); Mental Health First Aid (one-day training); and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (two-day training).
For more information, contact Western Colorado 2-1-1.

Promote social connections inside and outside of work. Most of our waking hours are spent at work, so it’s important for employees to feel connected to one another.  Disconnected employees are less productive and far less likely to disclose personal struggles. An environment that fosters engagement encourages personal growth and provides staff with opportunities to interact and build connections. My agency offers monthly lunch-and-learn events to educate employees about individual programs and acquaint them with their coworkers. Allow staff to form healthy relationships beyond the work setting.  A great way to do this is to form an email or social media group that employees have the option to join. They can notify each other of such outside events as a paint night or Saturday hike.

Sometimes we have to feel uncomfortable to become comfortable. The awkward conversation you’d prefer to avoid could save someone’s life. Let’s keep the conversations going. The more we talk, the more acceptable it becomes to ask for help. 

To learn more about suicide prevention and resources in Mesa County and how your workplace can get involved, visit