The words suicide and depression are singular. The person feels that way or commits the act for various different reasons, but in reality, the effects of those actions or feelings are plural. Everyone close to that individual is affected, from family members to friends to co-workers.

From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24 percent, and the majority of the increase occurred from 2006 to the present, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The best managers and leaders hire based on whether that person is going to fit into the culture. Why? Because we often spend more time with our co-workers than our families. In fact, a person spends an average of 60 percent of their waking hours in the workplace, which means we get pretty close whether or not we choose to.

Therefore, there is a serious need for companies and leaders to evaluate what is happening — not only from a safety standpoint but also from a mental health standpoint — making sure close relationships with workers are forged so that individuals suffering from depression or other issues get the help they need before it's too late.

It is imperative that we make the time to know our co-workers so they go home every night knowing someone cares. When I talk about getting to the root cause, it means trying to find out why an employee is feeling a certain way, being comfortable enough to talk to them and for them to trust that you'll keep it confidential before that hopelessness gets hold of them and they feel like there are no more options.

At this year's Safety Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh, executives addressed the audience about characteristics or attributes safety professionals must have. Among those mentioned were empathy, being genuine and having compassion. These key attributes could help employees to be safe on the job, and they also could be the pathway to an effective mental health program in the workplace.

If the simple fact that caring for a fellow co-worker or employee isn't enough, the numbers prove it.
Depression costs more than $51 billion in absenteeism from work and lost productivity and $26 billion in direct treatment costs on an annual basis, according to nonprofit Mental Health America.

In addition, polls show fewer than half of employees who have access to a mental wellness program at work utilize it. Studies indicate mental health issues stay under the radar because the employee is afraid of jeopardizing his or her chances for promotion or because of the perceived stigma attached with mental illness.

The topic of mental illness only is going to become progressively more important to an EHS professional as our nation's healthcare system evolves and people affected by depression or other mental health disorders are left in the dark when it comes to treatment.

State funding for mental illness dropped more than $1.8 billion between 2009 and 2011, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This emphasizes the need for companies and leaders to maintain relationships with each worker, to be fully invested in every employee and to show they genuinely care for their welfare.

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health lists ways to strengthen or implement workplace mental health programs including:

  • Conducting an employee awareness program about depression, anxiety and substance abuse.
  • Educating managers about mental disorders.
  • Establishing an easily accessible behavioral health system.
  • Offering mental health screening.
  • Integrating healthcare services to improve outcomes and reduce costs.
  • Leveraging purchasing power to obtain quality healthcare services through joining a business coalition.
  • Collaborating with other employers or stakeholders.
  • Creating initiatives with mental health clinicians in your community.

A recent Harvard Medical Study showed that in the long-term, employers benefit when mental health care initiatives are implemented, not only from a workforce perspective but fiscally as well.

So, next time you're at a job site, really listen to co-workers. Has anything changed? How are they feeling? Most importantly, show them you care. That reassurance could make their life worth living.

Depression could affect workplace morale and productivity.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America lists common symptoms on their website. They are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood.
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, including sex.
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down.”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions.
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping.
  • Low appetite and weight loss or overeating and weight gain.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts.
  • Restlessness, irritability.
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain for which no other cause can be diagnosed.