By Ellen McGirt
Updated: June 6, 2018 3:42 PM ET

*This post talks about suicide and suicide ideation.

 

 

Kate Spade, the founder of an iconic brand, wife, mother, and friend died by suicide yesterday. She was 55.

Spade was a rare figure in the fashion world, an accessible and authentic spirit who made a lasting impact on business, building an empire that reflected her unique vision and created products that made women of all ages feel beautiful.

Fans took to Twitter to express their shock and sympathy, to share stories of their first-ever Kate Spade purses, and to offer sad reminders that problems with mental health can affect anyone.

“Tears just knowing #KateSpade took her life alone & in pain!” tweeted Rosie Perez. “So many hide & suffer alone. I get it — #Mentalillness can suck & be very painful. We must end stigma & help each other get proper #MentalHealth treatment.”

Perez is right.

For one, suicides are on the rise. 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.

But workplace suicides are also on the rise, confounding experts and compelling managers to re-think how they talk about mental health at work.

Suicides at workplaces totaled 291 in 2016, the highest number since the government began keeping track 25 years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, a new study by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed census data and found that workplace suicides ticked up markedly starting in 2010. “If I knew [why this was happening] I’d be able to prevent it,” Leon Lott, the sheriff for South Carolina’s Richland County, told The Wall Street Journal. Lott lost one of his deputies to suicide in July.

NIOSH researchers found that people in certain occupations faced higher risks, like first responders who experience high stress and have easy access to guns. People who work in farming, fishing, and forestry now have the second highest risk of suicide, which researchers believe is due to financial insecurity and social isolation.

But Kate Spade’s death is a reminder that no one is immune.

“Corporate managers are increasingly preparing for the possibility,” of the suicide of a colleague says WSJ’s Rachel Feintzeig. “Employers are bringing in counselors to teach managers to spot some of the potential warning signs: Someone planning suicide might exhibit a sharp decline in personal hygiene or a significant change in personality.” And employee assistance programs are increasingly being configured to reflect best practices in mental health referrals.

The reality hit home for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in the U.K., after colleagues witnessed a young accounting employee jump to his death from the firm’s London office building in 2015. The company provided in-house counselors for weeks to help traumatized employees cope and created a mobile app with information to resources about mental health. This year, the company plans to train 5,000 managers in ways they can better identify employees at risk.

I’ve included some links below that might help if you need more information for how to increase awareness in your own workplace, but I was touched by this simple advice from Lane Moore writing in Cosmopolitan, on how to talk to a suicidal friend.

Moore herself has suffered from depression and suicidal ideation, so she shares from the heart. Most of her tips involve just being present. “Many suicidal people feel like people do not understand the gravity of the situation or the immense, unbearable, incomprehensible amount of pain you have to be in to legitimately want to die,” she writes. “Tell them you hear them, you see it, and you are worried.”

 

 

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