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Grieving parent offers testimonial on importance of mental health benefits

Early morning on March 29, 1999, our son Keith died by suicide.

Although always a successful student and employee, Keith suffered from depression and stress from feeling overwhelmed by his last job, where had worked for only seven months before he died.  

After completing undergraduate work at UCLA and graduate study at Northwestern, Keith accepted a job in Minneapolis and felt very well prepared.

Unfortunately, he was not able to foresee the pressure he would soon be under.

Although already feeling weighed down by his workload, management quickly increased Keith’s responsibilities. Keith was asked to perform a job that he simply was not qualified to do. However, after working long hours in the office, Keith would then go home to study for four to six hours a night, trying to understand the material. 

In a phone conversation I had with Keith before he died, he told me he hadn’t been sleeping. He also told me that he was worried about the project that he was given. He didn’t think he had the knowledge to be able to complete the assignment. The last time we saw Keith, he had lost a lot of weight, but I did not think much about it at the time because he was training to run a Marathon. Now, in retrospect, I wish I had recognized those changes as signs of depression.

The day Keith was to present his marketing plan to his company, he did not show up for work. He did not know how to fight his feelings of helplessness, and not eating and sleeping well only made matters worse. Seeing only one way to escape, Keith ended his life in the early hours of the next morning.

One might ask: Why didn’t Keith just quit his job? The answer is he could not reason his way out of it. Hopelessness and despair are common emotions that precede suicide, and he couldn’t see the future clearly, He felt trapped by his circumstances, and —perhaps most importantly—Keith took personal responsibility for what was a company failure.

However, what if Keith’s employer had a mentoring program for young new hires? Fostered a culture where questions and concerns were welcomed? Offered an employee assistance program? Hired an employee advocate? Or more clearly communicated the company’s health benefits -- including mental health? Although each employer handles mental health differently, I urge them all to consider all aspects of the human condition as they plan for safety and risk management, and outline their health benefits offerings.

The following are a few of the resources available to help employers, individuals, and families find other solutions to depression:
* Employee Assistance Professionals Association
* American Psychiatric Association
* National Institute of Mental Health
* National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc.

Carol Loehr, www.thegiftofkeith.org