Right now, I am helping a number of employers get the help they need while supporting an employee post suicide, and I thought the notes that I normally send to them might help someone else.
SUPPORTING AN EMPLOYEE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS
The sad thing is there are no ‘Right” answers when it comes to depression, as everyone seems to have their own version of disappearing into the ‘kumera pit’ or being chased by ‘The Black Dog’. Also, I need to disclose upfront that I am not a psychologist and the following are some ideas for you to consider that might help. These ideas are not meant to surpass seeing a GP, going to a counselor or contacting a qualified support network.
IS WORK THE RIGHT PLACE?
When someone is severely depressed the only thing, they can do is focus on getting out of bed and surviving that day. They have lost all concept of the future and chances are they are sad/angry that they are in this state and sad/angry/fearful that they will never get out the other side.
I understand that going back to work and staying busy does sound like a good option, because staying at home, doing nothing and marinating in their own juices is not a good.
I also understand why an employer would be petrified that they might say or do the wrong thing and their employee may try and attempt suicide again at work.
WHAT CAN YOU DO POST SUICIDE?
Here are a few things to think about beyond calling in Workplace Support or Employee Assistance Programmes:
1. Look after yourself and other team members: Supporting a person through mental health issues can be harrowing and trigger your own problems. Look out for early warning signs i.e. not sleeping, sleeping too much, not eating, eating too much, using alcohol or drugs as escapism, being unusually obnoxious….
2. Talking to the worker: If they raise the issue of their depression:
Things to do:
- Just listen
- Use reflective listening techniques
- Tell me more
- And, what else
- So, you feel/think that….
- If they have been through depression before, remind them that they did get through it before (hope is important).
Things to avoid:
- Making it all about you… “I/my friend/ another worker…. went through the same thing….”
- Telling them they just need to “Get over it”, or “think happy thoughts” (that’s like telling someone with an amputation to stop bleeding)
- Change the topic or dismiss it…. “it’s not that bad, we need to focus on the next project”
3. Key steps moving forward:
1. Have an open discussion with the worker, acknowledge the depression and say that they are a valued and important member of the team and you do want them here.
2. Every morning, ask them how they are doing on a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being I want it over 10 being everything is awesome. If they give a low answer, ask them if they want to be at work, or go home. NB If you send them home, make sure you let their ‘Emergency Contact/ Next of Kin Know.
3. Give them tasks that are easy to achieve, where he is working with someone else or within in line of sight.
4. Play the ‘I noticed game’ no matter how small celebrate the wins. Building back their self-confidence and show them that they are valued/valuable and it is an important part of his progress.
5. If they talk about ‘topping’ themselves call their emergency contact and let them know immediately.
6. Other warning signs are giving away prized possessions, “tidying things up” (emptying locker, paying off bills, organising for animals to be looked after) as if they were going on holiday, or being falsely ‘over the top’ happy for no apparent reason.
7. If they are on medication, as they get better explain that if they are going to go of the meds they have to let their manager know, so they can support them. Going cold turkey can cause a catastrophic re-lapse.
I hope this helps and you will also find some great resources at:
Key to Life : Mike King’s KTLwebsite full of resources
Suicide: after a suicide attempt :NZ Mental Health Foundation
Managing mental health problems at work :WellPlaceNZ
www.thelowdown.co.nz :Focuses on young people
Feeling supported at work is important too :Depression.org.nz
Rural Health Road Map :Rural Health NZ
If you have anything to add to this conversation around supporting people post suicide or something to add to the list of resources please let me know.
Have a safe and productive week,