Did you know that 25% of friendships are made at work and it takes roughly 200 hours with a person to build a close friendship? If you consider that there are 2,080 work hours in a year, it’s easy to believe that of the friends you meet through work, at least one will be considered a close friend.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month, a time to raise awareness of this stigmatized topic. Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 and the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. In fact, more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. 

In the workplace, poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees. Unfortunately, the pandemic has increased several of the common risk factors of suicide, such as social isolation and difficulties accessing physical and mental healthcare. To combat this, companies around the world are designing support programs that can improve well-being among employees, and help them reduce stress and manage their mental health. For example, workplace wellness programs can identify those at risk and connect them to treatment. By directly addressing mental health issues in the workplace, employers can reduce health care costs for employees and their business.

This is an opportunity to understand what the warning signs for suicide are, and what steps we can take to reach out to our friends and colleagues who may need help. I want you to know: you can make a difference. How? By taking care of your mental health and holding space for your colleagues. 

  1. Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

Start taking care of yourself by addressing the key areas that affect your mental health, like sticking to a healthy diet, consistent exercise, plenty of water, and taking medications/supplements if needed. Once the basics are covered, participate in activities that bring you joy–read, listen to music, cook, hug your pet, or spend time with a friend. Now that you’re feeling good, explore and learn how to process your feelings by journaling, meditating, attending regular therapy sessions, and/or talking to trusted friends and family (although no friend nor family member can substitute for a therapist). 

I appreciate how Quantcast empowers employees to take care of their mental well-being by offering all employees free access to Headspace. Late last year, my husband and I had to put down our 17-1/2-year-old dog, Sebastian. He had been with my husband for 17 years and with me for 7 of those years. Headspace’s meditation for grief really helped us move through and process losing our dear friend.

Therapy is another valuable resource, and it isn’t just for when things become too much; it can provide us with the tools to move through everyday life before it becomes overwhelming. Recognizing that access to therapy is a privilege, I am grateful Quantcast has employee mental health assistance programs available to employees and their immediate family–24 hours a day, 7 days a week–to support us in times of stress, personal and work life challenges, and other areas that may be affecting our mental well-being and also offers free on-demand access to Ginger’s behavioral health coaching and video therapy (for US employees).

Now that we’ve got the basics covered–we’re seeking the joy in our lives, and we’re learning to process our emotions–what else can we do to protect our mental health? We can set boundaries at work. Setting firm boundaries can help you decide how to spend your time and energy. Block off “do not disturb” time slots on your calendar so you can truly focus on a challenging project without being interrupted. Also, determine tech-related boundaries and be clear about when you can/can’t be reached in the evenings/early mornings. Lastly, take advantage of mental health days: during the COVID-19 pandemic, Quantcast has empowered employees with mental health days once every quarter. But since life doesn’t happen on a schedule, you should likewise feel empowered to take mental health days as you need them.

During those mental health days, here are some ways to focus on yourself:

  • Start by getting a good night’s sleep–aim for eight hours.
  • Set goals for the day so that you can feel grounded before you start your day.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Exercise.
  • Tackle any emotional issues you might be facing–reframe them in a positive light.
  • Spend time socializing with your friends.
  • Get started on that new hobby you keep talking about.
  • Take a nap in the afternoon.
  • Before going to sleep, reflect on the day’s events and write down what you’re grateful for.

  1. Care for Your Colleagues by Knowing the Signs

It is estimated that eight out of 10 people who consider suicide show signs of their intentions to harm themselves, such as dramatic changes in their behavior, talking about having no way out of problems, speaking about dying, social withdrawal and isolation, and saying goodbye to friends and family.

But not all signs are so obvious. It’s also important to know what signs could be missed, including mood swings, being emotionally distant, changes in sleep patterns, physical pain, or stockpiling pills. 

  1. What to Do If a Colleague Shows Signs of Wanting to Commit Suicide

If you think a colleague is showing signs of wanting to commit suicide, encourage them to reach out to your employer’s counseling services or seek counseling help outside of the organization. Focus on listening to what your colleague has to say without making judgements. Ask if there is any one they would like to call. If you think your colleague is about to hurt themselves, do not leave them alone; immediately reach out to your employer’s counseling services or seek help from an organization outside of the workplace.

If you’re a manager, understand your obligations and your company’s policies for responding to situations where someone is in danger.  Proactively set an example by taking days off and respecting the time off of others. Create a workplace environment that encourages employees to seek the support they need to be successful in their role, and be there to support them during challenging times in their lives. If there are stressors in the workplace that can negatively affect an employee’s mental health, work on reducing them or eliminating them altogether. Seek help from your own manager or peers to foster a positive and healthy work environment. 

Sometimes the world can feel like too much. Know that you’re not alone and there are people who deeply care about your well-being. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out to these resources: 

  • Text TALK to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Assistance is available 24/7 through this Lifeline number and their website.
  • For crisis counseling and support related to COVID-19, call the Disaster Distress Helpline (1-800-985-5990) or text TalkWithUs to 66746. 

If you are a colleague who cares deeply and wants to learn more about how to help people having a mental health crisis, please visit: