Pulitzer Prize nominee David Foster Wallace, one of the most celebrated authors of our time, published his critically acclaimed novel Infinite Jest in 1996. In 2008 his wife found him dead, having hanged himself at the age of 46.
Robin Williams, easily one of the most successful comedians who ever lived, had a career that spanned more than 30 years and won him numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie Good Will Hunting. After years of privately struggling with Lewy Body Dementia, the beloved actor and comedian finally lost the battle and took his own life in 2014 at the age of 63.
After being bullied and assaulted in the public bathroom at his school, Gabriel Taye committed suicide. Unlike David Foster Wallace or Robin Williams, we will never know what amazing things Gabriel might have accomplished. In 2017 he ended his life at the tender age of 8.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. There were more than 1.3 million suicide attempts in 2017, of which more than 47,000 were successful, costing more than $69 billion and leaving friends and loved ones to suffer from that loss for the rests of their lives. There are currently 40 million Americans living with depression and most of them will never seek treatment for this debilitating disease, leaving them especially vulnerable to suicidal ideation. While suicide can impact anyone of any age, race, religion, or gender, the demographic group most likely to commit suicide is white men between the ages of 45 and 54.
There is no amount of money or success that can stop someone from committing suicide, but there are things you can do to help people dealing with a mental health crisis. One of the things you can do as an employer to help people address depression or suicidal feelings is to offer an Employee Assistance Program. Not only can you save a life, but helping people through their darkest moments can help companies save up to $44 billion dollars in lost productivity alone.
The suicide rate among the U.S. working-age population has increased by 34% between 2000-2016 according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An EAP can help in multiple ways, including providing access to necessary mental health services, helping employees with financial and legal issues to reduce stress levels, and offering treatment referrals for anger management and substance abuse issues that can contribute heavily to depression. An EAP program can also offer multiple ways to access these benefits, allowing people to speak with service providers by phone, in person, or even via video chat, helping break down barriers that might otherwise have stopped someone from receiving much-needed services.
David Foster Wallace, Robin Williams, and Gabriel Taye all had families who loved them and continue to grieve for them. They all had friends, employers, teachers, neighbors, and other people in their lives who were also dealt a devastating loss when they took their lives. While the rest of us don’t feel their loss in quite the same way, it is clear that society also suffered tremendously from the loss of those who were gone too soon, leaving a hole where their contributions would have made the world a better, stronger, brighter place.
It’s time to get real about mental health in the workplace. Talking about difficult topics, like a nationwide suicide epidemic, is just one part of the solution. Every business leader needs to take a closer look at how they are fostering mental health awareness, creating a psychologically healthy work environment, and partnering with the right professionals and benefits to ensure that proper prevention, intervention and support is provided to their workforce when they need it most.