Last week, comedian and legendary actor Robin Williams was found dead in his home, the victim of an apparent suicide. Williams, whose legacy will be forever intertwined with his iconic characters — Mrs. Doubtfire, Peter Pan, the Genie in Aladdin, and Popeye, to name a few — was 63 years old when he ended his life.
Williams’ unexpected death has thrust the subject of suicide into the spotlight on social media and in the news, perhaps because it’s almost inconceivable that someone who was so good at making people happy could be so sad that he no longer wanted to live. Maybe that juxtaposition is what makes his death even more jarring than other suicides.
Regardless, people are talking about suicide. Links to resources are popping up in Tweets and Facebook posts everywhere, and entertainment shows are flashing suicide hotline numbers across the screen, encouraging people to get help. But I can’t help thinking, shouldn’t we always be this aware of suicide? Shouldn’t we always be doing what we can to prevent it?
Which brings me to the HVAC industry. We all know this job can be tough. The hours aren’t always regular, the customers aren’t always the nicest, and the pay, at least in the beginning, isn’t always the greatest. And for those who have families, the time spent away from home working those odd hours can place extra stress on an already stressed-out employee.
But what does this have to do with you? I’ll start by laying out a statistic: According to the CDC, the majority of suicide deaths in the U.S. are among working-age adults, especially men, between the ages of 24 and 64. I bet that describes the majority of your employees.
As a manager, you’re responsible for your employees, so you’re in a position to help them, should they need it. So, if you recognize any changes in your employees’ behaviors, talk to them. Take the risk. Say something. Talk to all your employees. Offer suicide prevention training at your office. Offer mental health screenings. Find ways to boost morale. Make suicide prevention resources available, and let your employees know you’re there for them. None of these things are hard to do, but if you take the time, you truly might just save a life.
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