Friday, June 25, 2010

Working Minds: Gaining Momentum for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace

“The workplace is the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the 30,000 people who kill themselves each year in the U.S. A co-worker’s suicide has a deep, disturbing impact on work mates. For managers, such tragedies pose challenges no one covered in management school.”

Shellenbarger – Wall Street Journal

In the suicide prevention field a gap exists: the majority of people who die by suicide are men of working age, and yet very little prevention work is targeting this demographic. While 85% of middle managers believe part of their responsibility is to identify and help employees with depression, only 18% of those managers had received training that would prepare them to do so. Since we noticed this gap, the Carson J Spencer Foundation has been on a mission, and in 2010 our vision is quickly gaining momentum.

When we formed the Carson J Spencer Foundation in 2005, our goals were two-fold, to honor the life of the man who was the foundation’s namesake and to help prevent others from going through the unimaginable mental anguish he faced as he battled a mental illness that ultimately proved fatal. When we spent 18 months or so examining the needs of the field and our unique position to fulfill them, we discovered a much-needed niche to be filled: suicide prevention in the workplace. We then spent the next couple of years developing the “Working Minds” program – a multifaceted suicide prevention program for employers. And now, as we face our 5th year anniversary, the program is gaining momentum at every turn.

The goals of the Working Minds program are three-fold:

  1. to increase awareness that suicide is a public health issue that is preventable and that workplaces have a responsibility to respond and a vested interest in prevention and mental health promotion
  2. to increase skills related to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention in the workplace
  3. to offer models of recovery at the individual level and mental health promotion at the organizational level
The program components include an interactive website (, a toolkit for managers, and a network of organizations that are focused on promoting mental health at work. The Working Minds Toolkit, a cornerstone of the program, offers employers an off-the-shelf curriculum to begin to change the conversation workplaces are having about mental health and suicide. The toolkit, published in November 2009, is available on Amazon and through the Working Minds website.

In 2010, we continue to see the momentum for the Working Minds Program build:
  • The Anschutz Family Foundation funds the Working Minds Program implementation among organizations that serve homeless populations.
  • Mountain States Employer’s Council, the go-to organization for HR training in the Rocky Mountain Region, agrees to offer Working Minds training to its members.
  • The Working Minds Toolkit is accepted to the Best Practice Registry after being reviewed by national experts who determine that it adheres to standards of care
  • Presentations are made at the Navy’s Suicide Prevention Conference and other national and regional conferences touching leaders in the military, risk management and suicide prevention fields.
With the increasing strain of economic hardship and the challenges of reintegrating returning military from active combat into a civilian workforce, mental health concerns will continue to confront employers in many ways. The Working Minds Toolkit helps give them skills to proactively address these problems rather than just react to them.

How is your company promoting mental health and preventing suicide?