It was the last semester of my senior year in college – right after Spring Break – when I heard the news that would forever shape my views on mental illness.
A friend and fellow editor of the college newspaper I worked for, Steven Ochs jumped to his death from one of the many bridges near his hometown in Pittsburgh, PA.
A group of us ended up driving out there across the fields of Pennsylvania to mourn his passing. It was the first time I was a pallbearer at a funeral and I knew then that was something I never wanted to be for a friend again.
Steven was a remarkable young adult.
I wish you could’ve known him. He wrote amazing columns for our college paper and editorials nearly every weekday. Thanks to the internet, you can still read a few here.
I can still remember sitting in his newspaper office couch and hearing him talk; he was always a few steps ahead of me. I thought he had a promising future.
I thought about Steve a bunch last week, when the celebrity suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Boudrain became headlines.
Those people, along with Steve, seemingly had everything that would want.
As anyone who has had a friend or relative commit suicide, there’s a certain amount of second guessing that goes on. What signals did I miss? What could I have done differently? Was I a good enough friend? Why didn’t he ask for help?
And a lot times, it just comes down to a simple question too: Why?
Every suicide of a employee impacts the workplace as well. And sometimes it is at the workplace itself – but regardless, suicides have been on the rise the last several years. As a Wall Street Journal article from earlier this year noted:
Nationwide, the numbers are small but striking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suicides at workplaces totaled 291 in 2016, the most recent year of data and the highest number since the government began tallying such events 25 years ago. U.S. suicides overall totaled nearly 45,000 in 2016, a 35% increase compared with 10 years earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Who is most at risk? According to the BLS study, 45- to 54-year-old males had the highest likelihood of committing workplace suicide. And workers in the public sector had a higher propensity for workplace suicide while workers in the private sector suffered the majority of these fatalities. The private industry sectors with the highest propensities for workplace suicide were finance and insurance; professional, scientific and technical services; and health care and social
The solutions are far more complex than a simple employment law blog post can capture. Some of them are rooted in society. But discussions regarding mental health — and bringing those discussions in the workplace — is often seen as one important step that can be done. A renewed emphasis on making sure employees know about and use Employee Assistance Programs is also another important step.
HR staff can sometimes be at the front lines. Figuring out that an employee might need help can be a part of a solution but as we all know, it might still not be enough.
We can only hope that as we raise awareness of this, that we can stop some suicides from occurring so that 25 years from now, someone else isn’t writing a blog post about one of their friends as well.