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Suicide Prevention as a DEI Strategy

************Trigger warning, this article does mention suicide ideation*********************.

September marks Suicide Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness, destigmatize the topic, and shift public perception. While suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition, it should not be reduced or misunderstood as only an individual phenomena. Suicide is as closely related to untreated mental health conditions as it is to the social structures that collectively cause us to experience mental distress.

The countless amount of memes and jokes point to the fact that a vast majority of people are unhappy with their jobs. The workplace, then, is a major contributing factor to the chronic stress, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms that millions of people experience on a daily basis. Compound that with the racist and biased experiences that Black and Brown people regularly incur in the workplace, and it can be enough to make someone not want to continue with their life as they’re currently experiencing it.

I’ve always been passionate about making the workplace one that supports the health and well-being of people of color, but it was my own experience with suicidal ideation that radicalized me even more. Shortly after taking a new role, I realized almost immediately that I was caught in a toxic organization that thrived off of White supremacist values. Being expected to be the savior of a sinking ship deeply impacted my mental health. I sank into a major depression, wrestled with crippling anxiety, and once the organization had to shut down, leaving me without a job, I became suicidal.

It is only by the grace of God, an experienced therapist, and a supportive community of friends that I slowly began to heal. While healing isn’t linear, I’m grateful to be in a much better place today. I’m faced with entirely different stressors now as an entrepreneur, and it’s reaffirmed for me that suicide is a public health crisis that is can’t be treated in isolation. When someone commits suicide we immediately ask how we could miss the signs, but often, the signs are there all along in the form of burnout and extreme mental duress from toxic jobs that hardly pay the bills.

A solid DEI strategy includes a suicide prevention plan. That plan begins with fostering an environment that allows all team members to feel and be their best selves, and fosters a sense of connection. Every job experiences ebbs and flows of busy seasons and stressful times, but that stress should never compound on employees in a way that they begin to question their worth or will to live. Constant criticism, micromanaging, and devaluing employees are all behaviors that can add to the pain many are already experiencing.

A job may not be the place that many of your employees would choose to make friends at, but that doesn’t mean that work-based relationships can’t be fruitful and supportive. Instilling a sense of community and inclusion can help employees to feel less alone, and part of a collective.

The scars of suicide ideation and attempts only heal when the conditions that created them are addressed, and the individual supported through that journey. If you’re leading an organization and concerned about your team’s risk for suicide, first, consider seeking support from a licensed professional. A consultation with ShiftED Consulting can also support you in crafting a DEI strategy that advances suicide prevention this September and beyond.

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