In 2018 when we learned about the suicides of Kate Spade, and shortly after, Anthony Bourdain, you could almost hear a collective, country-wide gasp. They were another reminder that we’re all human, and success neither protects anyone from anxiety or depression nor is an automatic path to happiness.
The suicides of two well-known and beloved public figures placed a renewed focus on suicide and mental health in this country. And they should: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016. Last year alone, nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide. Put into perspective, that’s an entire small city’s worth of people who took their own lives.
“Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but suicide is rarely caused by any single factor. In fact, many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Other problems often contribute to suicide, such as those related to relationships, substance use, physical health and job, money, legal or housing stress,” the CDC website stated.
Taking care of your mental health should be a priority every day, whether it means taking a five-minute walk around the block during lunch, or getting up early to meditate or work out.
Early on in my career I realized the value of mental health when mine was in a terrible state. I was working long hours in a toxic work environment with low pay. I was getting sick every other week and losing a lot of weight. After struggling for several months, I called my dad and told him that I had hit a wall and couldn’t do it anymore.
Finally, after a lot of deliberation, I quit my job without lining up another one. I had a tough year after that financially, but I got a temp job and made it through. Most importantly, I made it through with my mental health intact. At the time, I was single and had very few expenses, so I’m not promoting this approach because it barely worked for me and wouldn’t for most people. However, to this day, I’m still glad I put my mental health first. I realized my limits, knew I had surpassed them and was suffering because of it, and made a change accordingly.
As I said, I’m not promoting quitting your job without a Plan B. However, I am promoting seeking help or making a change if your mental health is suffering. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather strength because it means you’re brave enough to recognize you need help and face your problems – which I know is not always easy.
The CDC also offered five steps to helping someone at risk for suicide:
2. Keep them safe.
3. Be there.
4. Help them connect.
5. Follow up.
Of course, not everyone who is having a hard time is suicidal. Life is full of ups and downs, and situational difficulties. So how can you help a co-worker or friend who is having a difficult time while still respecting their boundaries?
Dr. Sapna Doshi, director and licensed clinical psychologist at Mind Body Health in Arlington, Va., said it’s important to listen in a non-judgmental way, validate what that person is going through and validate their struggles. Also, ask if there’s anything you can do to help instead of giving the person a ton of proposed solutions. They may just want to vent and may not be ready to take the next step.
Doshi also recommended being sensitive to the person’s desire for confidentiality, and letting them know you won’t disclose any information unless they express that they are going to harm themselves. If the co-worker wants help, encourage them to speak to their boss directly so they’re aware of the issue (but only if the boss is open and sensitive to hearing about personal struggles). If management is not open to that, encourage the co-worker to go to human resources or an employee assistance program, Doshi said.
What shouldn’t you do when supporting a struggling co-worker or friend? Doshi said it’s important to avoid minimizing what the person is going through. She emphasized that a lot of people tend to compare people’s situations to someone who has it worse. For example, avoid comparing their life to the struggles of someone in a third-world country. Doshi said this tends to make people feel a lot worse about themselves and is not helpful.
“The worst thing that anyone can do is tell someone how they should or shouldn’t feel. Saying things like ‘Don’t feel that way or don’t think that’ is nearly impossible,” Doshi said. “We may be able to control how we act on our emotions, but it’s extremely difficult to control how we feel, so telling someone not to think about something or feel that way is nearly impossible and not helpful.”
Doshi also said to avoid directly telling someone they need to do x, y and z to solve their problem. She recommended instead asking what they’ve already done, and get them to talk about that more openly.
With social media, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to “the Joneses.” In reality, what we often see on social media is a highlight reel – a highly edited-version of what people want to project. The Joneses may be $40,000 in debt and may have had a huge fight immediately after posting a picturesque photo on the cliffs of Santorini. The moral of the story: We all have problems and no one is perfect despite a projection of such.
We’re all human and we will all struggle at some point or another. If you, or someone you know is in need of help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. I’ve asked for help many times before and have never regretted it because now I’m here to tell you about it.
Here are a few resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It’s a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
A version of this story originally appeared on the Credit Union Times website.