I didn’t want to write this post. But there are times when something impacts you so significantly that you know you have to write it, or speak it or show it. This is one of those times.
It is not my intention to trigger people or cause harm in writing this post. If you experience strong emotions, please scroll to the bottom of this article where I have resources and help listed for you.
In Mid-September 2017 I was in a room with 24 other women. We are all part of a community of women called The Little Black Dress Group. All from various walks of life, some professionals within the corporate environment, others in their own business. All of us high achieving, responsible women who are committed to making a difference in the world.
As we were sharing some of our highlights and low- lights of the last 90 days, one woman full of courage shared how deeply the mental ill-health of her first ever employee had affected her. I had been working closely with this colleague and she had been incredibly resourceful in contracting me to help her employee navigate returning to work in a way that would be safe, sustainable, and offer them both the language to be able to talk about mental health at work on an on-going basis. This employee had not been in the role for long, had not disclosed a history of mental illness and was then placed on suicide watch and hospitalised for more than 6 weeks.
As I watched this strong, competent businesswoman share her story I noticed that there was a massive shift in energy in the room.
In a room of 25 women, 6 of us had experienced successful (well, that’s a horrible phrase) suicide in the first degree. What I mean by this is 6 women in that room were personally and directly touched by the suicide of 6 different people at some time in their life. Two women in this room had experienced employees – key people in their teams – taking their own lives.
6/25 means that 24% of the room had direct exposure and experience with a person who had taken their own life.
As this conversation continued I noticed two distinct themes:
- The ones left behind felt incredible guilt not knowing this was going to happen. Every single person said in some way, how did I not know? I didn’t realise they felt so bad. I had no idea this would happen.
- The ones left behind felt incredible shame. That somehow, they were to blame. That there must be something wrong with their management or leadership style for this horrible event to have occurred.
As I listened to my friends, my colleagues, my peers, my heart broke for them. It breaks now as I write this. One courageous woman has been dealing with and making sense of her employee’s choice to suicide for the past eight years. 8 Years! This is not something we just “get over”.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics* published these statistics for us back in 2015 (this is now 2 years old)
- The overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 in Australia. This is the highest rate in 10-plus years
- The most recent Australian data (ABS, Causes of Death, 2015) reports deaths due to suicide in 2015 at 3,027
- This equates to more than eight deaths by suicide in Australia each day
However, the stats feel pretty innocuous, don’t they?
They are just numbers in a sea of numbers that we deal with every day.
Numbers that are everywhere in our day to day life:
We spend money.
We make money.
We have ROI.
We develop KPI’s.
We have exchange rates.
We have Google analytics.
There are Stat’s for everything…
It goes on and on and on and on.
And this is where SUICIDE became so incredibly confronting for me.
As I watched a room of 25 women grieve, support, express their shame, share their anguish – I saw 6 faces. 6 People I know, love and respect who had carried anguish, trauma and guilt with them.
And 6 more. Of people I didn’t even know who had chosen to take their own lives.
And it struck me.
- If all of my family of origin took their own lives, there would be NONE of us left (there are 5 people in my family of origin).
- If 6 people in my Purple Co team took their own life we would more than halve our capacity.
- If 6 of my friends took their own life – I would essentially lose my inner circle.
- If the 6 women in my mentoring group all took their own lives, the group would cease to exist.
For some reason on this day, in this environment everything I have ever heard and read and witnessed to do with suicide became incredibly real. I am a health professional, I work with people in the midst of health crises all the time. I’m not new to this. I’ve also been engaged to help someone return to work after an unsuccessful suicide attempt at work. So, this is not from a lack of exposure on my part.
Yet it was not until I sat in a room, in September 2017 with 24 other women that the rate, the impact and the sadness of suicide became real to me. And I realised it was time to write.
Maybe, just maybe someone reading this post will have the same reaction – where statistics start being people.
Where the pursuit of Big Data becomes humanised.
Where we sit up and take notice that “R U OK?” isn’t just for 1 day in the year – it’s for every day of every year.
Mental health does not occur in a silo. It doesn’t occur like a broken bone or cut on the hand. It’s all pervasive and it’s all consuming. It is with us, around us, enmeshed in every part of our life. It’s not something we do once.
We all carry the impact. As employers, employees, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties; friends, colleagues; strangers on the street…………. When one person takes their life, we are ALL affected!
It’s time. Time to have this conversation and DO something about mental health.
Knowing that when we can help 1 person, we will create an impact for a family and a workplace.
That when we can help 1 workplace and 1 family we will impact 1 community.
When we can help enough communities, we will impact a State.
And here in Australia, when we impact 6 States and 2 Territories we change a nation!
What would it be like if the next time the ABS did its data analysis on cause of death if we actually saw the rate of suicide in this nation go down!
Now THAT is my idea of a worthwhile conversation.
If you experience strong emotions as a result of this article, here are some resources that I would recommend as a starting point.
If you need help. Or if you want help or if you have someone in your world who you think needs help, please don’t do NOTHING.
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1800 273 8255
- Here’s a great resource to help with having a conversation around mental ill-health, complete with videos to show how easy it can be and how we can all learn to have these conversations.
- Let’s make this a priority in the workplace. We have policies and procedures for most things that occur in our workplaces. We know what to do if someone has a motor vehicle accident or falls over at work – so now it’s time to create the policy, the system and process that transforms workplaces into Holistically safe places where we spend in excess of 40 hours a week.
SuperFriend has amazing training and resources to allow every workplace in Australia (and beyond) to make mental health as important as physical health – so we can just be healthy at work https://www.superfriend.com.au/