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What do the Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain Suicides Mean in the Workplace

By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability (NOD)

The tragic and untimely deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain should serve as a reminder that even the most talented people, who appear to be holding it all together better than many of us, also can be affected by mental illness, a leading cause of suicide.


How many of your employees or colleagues at work are struggling with mental health issues Do you know Have you even considered it

Mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of worker disability in the U.S., with costs exceeding $193 billion, according to NAMI[JA1].

Yet while the costs of mental illness left untreated are high, pharmacological advances and new therapeutic techniques have dramatically reduced the costs of treating mental health disorders — like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (the latter of which affects one out of every five veterans [JA2] of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) — in the workforce.

According to a report that NOD advised on for the WMI, employees with invisible disabilities (such as mental health issues) are often less engaged than their counterparts with visible disabilities, likely because the latter workers access the accommodations they need at higher rates. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s natural that workers will hold back on disclosing, and getting the accommodations they need.

From an employer’s perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. And accommodations for someone with a mental illness are often simple — and inexpensive, such as flexibility in scheduling to accommodate medical appointments.

You can get started with these 6 Key Tips to Address Mental Health in your Workplace, from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council. And there are companies leading the pack that you can learn from, including health care company and DiversityInc Hall of Famer Kaiser Permanente, whose “total health” perspective is a model for other companies.

Today, revealing and accommodating a mental illness is a win-win for the employee and the employer. I found it incredibly helpful to share my own story related to mental illness. My hope is that more employers will take the steps to create a culture where more employees can do the same, in part by starting the conversation. Take care of your employees, because some are suffering from mental illness and the results can be catastrophic.

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