A shocking global health problem
Well done Ant and Dec for pausing the BGT Champions show on Saturday night for a minute’s silence so fans could simply talk about their mental health. What a great tactic and I wonder how many thousands of people opened up about their issues to friends, partners and family who wouldn’t have dreamed of doing so without that spur. I wonder too, how many people have been saved from suicide thanks to the show.
World Mental Health Day is today, October 10th and this year, “suicide prevention” is the main theme. I was horrified to find out that according to the WHO, more than 800,000 people die by suicide every year, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old.
The other shocking thing is that suicide is so devastatingly unexpected yet easily preventable. Why? Because suicidal people can be great actors, wearing a mask of cheerfulness, hiding their demons from even their closest family members because they feel ashamed (wrongly) about having mental illness.
Prevent not lament
Mental turmoil leading to suicide is incredibly complex and no two suicides could claim precisely the same factors; the key is prevention.
When a suicide happens, those left in its wake must deal with both the shock and tragedy of the event as well as the soul-searching afterwards. Emotions are myriad and punishing, ranging from guilt about not noticing their partner’s / friend’s / sibling’s / son, daughter’s or parent’s anguish, to anger and confusion about why they didn’t confide in them.
Look for the danger signs
Just last month I wrote an article about suicide vigilance in the workplace highlighting the 10 suicide red flags to watch out for in a person, but if you missed the blog, they need repeating:
- History of previous suicide attempt
- Addiction: Drug, alcohol, gambling problems
- Mood and anxiety issues, e.g., depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- A trigger event i.e. relationship break up; ill health; debt; legal or work worries
- Access to the means to kill oneself such as drugs, gun, or other lethal means
- Talking about hopelessness, ‘wanting to die’ or ‘commit suicide’
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Appearing agitated, anxious and behaving recklessly
- Isolating oneself from work colleagues
- Aggressive behaviour or talking about taking revenge
You can’t easily separate work and home life and when people come into the workplace it is more important than ever for managers to notice these red flags and have the skills to help.
When they say “I’m fine”…
We British offer the standard “I’m fine” answer to every enquiry about our welfare, so you should never take this at face value, especially as F.I.N.E. is an acronym for Fed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. So here’s an idea—when you ask a friend, colleague or family member how they are, do as Ant and Dec did and give them a minute to open up. Then look them squarely and sympathetically in the eye and ask again, “Are you really fine?” To be on the safe side, you should ask twice. Notice if they hesitate? What is their body language? Is it at odds with their response?
What is balanced mental health and what does it consist of?
Life is more complicated than ever. In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, people felt more integrated in their community than today because they experienced regular genuine interaction. As a little girl, I remember the women used to get together in the back lane to chat and put the world to rights while hanging out the washing or peeling the spuds! They knew every child’s name and your neighbours became Auntie this and Uncle that. A little social interaction went a long way to help people feel connected and cared about, with problems discussed and shared. These days social media gives a form of connectedness, but it is shallow and lacks the vitality of genuine one to one interaction that previous generations enjoyed. Social media can also be a platform of phoney lifestyle claims that give people a ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO) or failing to live up to the apparent lifestyles others are posting and sharing. This is having an enormously negative impact on young people in particular, fuelling anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.
As a qualified hypnotherapist and business coach I deal with the full spectrum of individuals from teens with anxiety, to stressed out chief executives whose confidence is gone and who deal with anxiety and panic attacks by self-medicating with drink and drugs or food because they feel they can’t handle the pressure anymore. That is a giant red flag.
The road to suicide can be a long one
Not all dark roads lead to suicide, far from it, but some do. Most of us have periods of stress, anxiety and depression, and occasionally months and months of problems seem to coalesce into a period of despair, but we don’t kill ourselves because the discrete trigger or ‘last straw event’ mercifully doesn’t present itself—that final tipping point.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Another common precursor to suicide that devastates mental health is PTSD, the mood and anxiety disorder that is not unique to the armed forces. PTSD is also a common by-product of a toxic or abusive relationship, as well as stemming from physical, mental or sexual abuse, accident or illness. Drug reactions can also cause PTSD making you lose your judgement and disconnect from reality, feeling complete loneliness and isolation. LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs are renowned for this. How would you as a friend or colleague recognise PTSD and depressive mental illness and deal with it?
Learn about suicide prevention
Bosses and managers recognise that stress and depression are leading causes of workplace absence and low performance. Whatever the size of your organisation, training everyone to recognise and report mental health and suicide concerns speaks volumes about your commitment towards ‘duty of care’ and benefits the whole business.
Take action on mental illness today
Carol Barwick Learning and Development (CBLD) has developed a Staff Wellbeing and Mental Health Awareness Workshop for the workplace to help business owners, managers and front-line staff identify and help colleagues and customers who may be at risk, connecting that person with the most appropriate sources of care.
The workshop delivers a uniquely inspiring and motivational message, identifying information about local mental health and related resources, alongside practical demonstrations to promote a philosophy of support, ‘connectedness’ and community in the workplace.
The following content is tailored to your organisation:
- Understanding the main physical, psychological and behavioural symptoms of suicide risk in yourself and others
- Recognise the warning signs of those at risk
- How to remain calm in difficult situations
- Resilience strategies to overcome negative experiences
- Powerful coping strategies
- A master toolkit of techniques, tools and tips for building knowledge of mental health and wellbeing (main focus)
- A blueprint for handling a suicide event in the workplace with clear steps to take in the aftermath, what you can and can’t do
- Practical action plan for the workplace with tools and techniques
- Contextualised case studies using real workplace scenarios to practice the tools and techniques, aid understanding and transfer of learning.
A short group relaxation is available to close the session (Recorded on mobiles for future benefit)
For more information on this topical and crucial course, contact me.