During the span of your entire life, if you could prevent one person from committing suicide, would you do it?  Bit of a no-brainer I think but there is a reason for my asking.  Although there is of course no guarantee of ever being able to prevent someone from doing something that they are determined to do, by learning to recognize the signs of depression and possible suicidal ideation, you might be able to make a difference to someone’s life…a very big difference.

How often have you heard people say, “I had no idea they were THAT depressed.”  Maybe you’ve even said it yourself if you know someone who has committed suicide.  I think the truth is that we probably know the person is very depressed but we just never expect anyone to kill themselves because we cannot relate to how things can be THAT bad.  I’ve even heard people say that they did not know the person was depressed at all, which is probably because it is an invisible illness that can be hidden or at least denied.  There is no wheelchair, crutch or hair loss.  There is often not even an admission to hospital so how sick can the person really be?

Suicide has become a global health crisis with rates being highest among working adults aged between 45 and 64.  According to a StressPulse survey, excessive workload (46%) and interpersonal issues (28%) are the leading sources of workplace stress. These are also two of the six Burnout domains.  Most employees who attempt or die by suicide have mental health or psychological disorders that haven’t been addressed.

So why are there so many employees with mental health disorders that are not being addressed?  Well I think there are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Stigma.

“What will everyone think of me if they know?  They will think I am weak, attention-seeking, unworthy, …(and the list goes on).”

  1. Lack of insight into the mental illness.

“There’s nothing wrong with me.  Everyone feels this way sometimes.”

  1. Lack of knowledge about available intervention.

“There is nothing that can help me.”

  1. Lack of access to intervention resources.

“I can’t afford to go to a Psychiatrist or a Psychologist.  Anyway, there are none close by and I can’t get time off work.”

I think there’s a huge opportunity here for employers to make a difference by actively addressing mental health issues in their workplaces.  And I am not talking about providing an EAP or counselling service for the employees, which many choose not to make use of in any event.  I am talking about implementing training for all leaders and employees to improve their awareness and understanding of mental illness.  Just imagine the potential of having so many eyes looking out for each other in your workplace?

Just a short real life example.  I recently facilitated an on-line workshop on mental illness in the workplace and was quite taken aback when one of the participants, an HR Practitioner, mentioned that a colleague had committed suicide just a week or so earlier.  They had been shocked by this event and expressed the common, “I had no idea he was struggling so much.”  This participant e-mailed me a few days later to tell me that they had looked through the colleague’s file and indeed there were many signs of a severe struggle with depression now that they knew what to look out for.  Not to say that these insights could have prevented the colleague’s suicide but without a doubt, they could be useful in the future.

As we approach the so-called “festive season”, this is a time when people with mental illness can be at their most vulnerable.  Add to this another year of the stress of a global pandemic with the associated losses of loved ones, jobs, and financial security, many people are not going to be having a December to relish.

So I leave you with one request – do your bit to learn something about mental illness – even if it is just one thing, learning about a few of the less obvious symptoms of depression for example, because this could be life-changing for you and someone you care about.

Last but by no means least, please take note of and share the following Helplines:

SADAG Suicide Prevention Line

SADAG’s Suicide Prevention Line offers 24-hour support to people in South Africa who are at risk of suicide.
Tel: 0800 567 567

South Africa Suicide Crisis Helpline

South Africa Suicide Crisis Helpline offers 24-hour support to people in South Africa who are in distress or at risk of suicide.
Tel: 0800 21 22 23
Tel: 0800 12 13 14


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work,


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