If you’ve ever stopped abruptly in the middle of a breakfast, a project review or a cofounder’s meeting to wonder what might happen if a colleague puts a bullet in her head, you’re not alone.
For Entrepreneurs working with a cofounder, or more, to start and run a high growth business, employee suicide is just one kind of workplace challenge that they’re vulnerable to; cofounder suicide is another.
As John Arnold, a guest writer at the Entrepreneur writes in Preventing Startup Suicide. Literally, “You would think that depression among entrepreneurs is tied to failure, or perhaps workload and stress. But the truth is that many entrepreneurs struggle with mental health issues in all types of entrepreneurial situations.”
While you might be immune to depression and thoughts of suicide, your cofounder might be wallowing under its grip.
If she’s constantly expressive about killing or harming herself, whether through speech or social media posts; if she constantly compares her current emotional situation to that of suicide victims; if she’s always talking about her death and seems unusually withdrawn, isolative and sad after surviving a traumatic incident; then she might be suicidal.
When you lose a cofounder to suicide, the effects can be very devastating for you, for the mental health of other team members and on your company’s ability to remain competitive.
Your ability to concentrate on work objectives, to perform at an optimal level in the same workspace that you shared without momentary mental distractions on the tragedy or to keep the business running while you’re empathizing with her loved ones or seeking a new cofounder will be severely tested. This can lead to higher stress levels and declining performance.
But that’s not all.
Your team is likely to be emotionally affected too. Your workers and cofounders closest to her might find it hard to keep the fire of entrepreneurship aflame especially if there’s a lot of media attention and scrutiny on the tragedy.
How to help a suicidal cofounder.
If you have fears that a cofounder is suicidal, then you should trust your gut and act. Here are certain tips, which I’ve culled and adapted to fit this situation from a guide on how Managers can respond to suicide warning signs among employees by the Cigna Corporation that you can adopt to help your cofounder.
1. Meet your cofounder and ask her questions to determine the next steps.
- Once you become aware of the warning signs, find the cofounder and don’t leave her alone.
- Take her to a quiet, private place to have a conversation to determine next steps.
- Be direct and let her know what you’ve learned. You might start with, “I’ve heard you say repeatedly, ‘My life is not worth living.'”
- Ask your cofounder if she’s had thoughts of ending her life. Research shows that most suicidal people feel relief, not distress when asked this question.
- Give your cofounder a chance to explain. Listening is the most important thing you can do at this time.
- Let your concern and support shine through your attitude. Be compassionate, even if you feel angry or upset about what she is considering.
- Don’t challenge her values or minimize their pain. For example, avoid saying things like, “You don’t want to do that,” or “Think about what it would do to your family.”
- You can offer hope that, with the right help, solutions can be found for the problems that are leading her to feel suicidal. But avoid the urge to question the employee about their problems. Don’t give advice or suggest solutions. Stay in the present.
- Protect her privacy as far as is practical, but do not promise to keep the matter confidential. Rather, say you’ll do everything you can to protect their privacy and will only share information as necessary for their safety.
2. If your cofounder is telling you that she intends to harm herself.
- Call the Nigerian suicide prevention initiative helplines: +234 806 210 6493 or +234 809 210 6493. You can also call the police. Her safety should be your priority. Also, never transport her to the hospital yourself. This could be dangerous for both of you.
- You can say to her, “Given what you’ve told me, I have concerns about your safety. I have a responsibility to make sure you get immediate help. Your safety is the most important thing right now.”
- When calling for help, give all the details that your cofounder has shared with you and any statements she reportedly made to others.
- When the emergency responders arrive, they will talk to your cofounder to assess further and determine next steps.
- You can also call for help in situations where your cofounder works offsite or has not reported to work and is not reachable. If the information you have presents an urgent concern, it’s better to call immediately to do a welfare/safety check than wait another day to see if your cofounder will report to work.