I’m afraid to give critical feedback after two employees threatened suicide

A reader writes:

I am a manager and I have a lot of empathy for people, particularly those on my team.

However, that empathy has taken a turn since I’ve now had employees twice threaten suicide after serious feedback conversations. In both cases I was told they were considering suicide because of the potential job loss, and we had to act accordingly — welfare checks, making sure their safety was secured. Clearly it wasn’t just my feedback that caused it, but it does seem like a catalyst for it. I did know before this happened that they were struggling with mental health, but nothing that would indicate this severity.

Both situations were dealt with and the people in question are safe, but I’m now struggling with being able to do anything regarding coaching my team. I am so terrified someone is going to be severely impacted by my words and I am almost paralyzed with anxiety. I know rationally that this is not my fault, but I am unable to listen to that rationale.

I don’t know how to come back from this. I have a therapist, but that’s so much bigger picture than the minutia of my day to day operations with my team. I am afraid that this will impact my job performance because what is a manager if they’re afraid of coaching?

Oh, I’m sorry. This must have been incredibly upsetting. And then to have it happen a second time — no wonder you’re feeling hesitant to give any more critical feedback.

But you are no more responsible for causing suicidal thoughts than, for example, someone’s friend or romantic partner would be, even if they gave them bad news or had a tough conversation with them with similar timing.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have an obligation to treat people well. Of course you do! But giving clear feedback, even when it’s critical, isn’t inconsistent with that — as long as you treat people with respect, dignity, and kindness.

In fact, I’d argue that in order to be a good, supportive manager to someone (with or without mental health struggles), you have to give honest and direct feedback. Otherwise, you’re setting them up to struggle in their role and to not know why they’re not getting the assignments, raises, or recognition they might want. You’re also setting them up to potentially lose their job at some point if the problems become serious enough, without having had the opportunity to fix the problems (ideally) or, failing that, having had clear warning that things aren’t working out so they’re not blindsided when it happens.

You should be kind when you do that, of course! You should have compassion and empathy, and you should speak to people with respect even when the message you’re delivering is a hard one. And you should care about your employees as people, and support them in all the things we need as humans — whether it’s time off or some grace when we mess up.

But you can hold the bar high, as long as you’re clear and fair about your expectations and coach people along the way. In fact, being kind can make it easier to hold a high bar, in that when you do need to give critical feedback, you ideally have a foundation where people trust you to look out for their interests along with the team’s. (Looking out for their interests doesn’t mean “you can keep your job here no matter what” but it does mean “I will partner with you to see if we can get your work where we need it, and if we can’t I’ll be honest with you about that and help you move on with dignity, and I will ensure you’re treated with respect throughout.”)

Maybe you did all that and this happened anyway. None of this is a failsafe against the reality that sometimes people just have a really hard time and work makes it worse. But that’s no one’s fault — it’s not theirs, and it’s not yours. It just sucks.

All you can do is go on being kind and respectful and honest — but I think if you can reframe “kind and respectful” as including real coaching, the way I described above, it will help.

Hang in there.

{ 234 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’ve removed a lengthy thread speculating that the employees might have been faking their distress. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that, assuming it’s likely is stigmatizing to people struggling with mental health, and it doesn’t change the advice at all.

    1. Yeah No*

      I cannot thank you enough Alison. You have really made a difference to me today by doing this. Thank you so much for everything you do.

    2. LetterWriter*

      Thanks Alison – this is really important to the bulk of my letter. I didn’t feel manipulated, I felt helpless because someone was in pain. I can confirm the two instances had little to do with each other and each warranted its own level of urgency.

      I don’t think I would be able to consider if something was manipulation going forward – it seems as if it would make things very hard to be compassionate/act accordingly and get the right people involved

      1. Annie*

        I don’t think it would be useful to even try to determine if a suicide threat might be manipulation or not, either. Whether it’s someone who feels so down in the dumps/life is going so horribly that taking one’s own life seems the only way out, or someone who feels the need to say they feel so down in the dumps/life is going so horribly that taking one’s own life seems the only way out to get what they want, that person needs help.

    3. rw*

      Why is it that so many readers thought ‘they must be faking it’ rather than ‘what the hell kind of toxic workplace is this?’. If you have increasing numbers of staff falling behind on their work and feeling depressed and suicidal, I’d suggest that might have more to do with unhealthy workloads or a toxic workplace culture than people ‘faking’ serious mental health issues.

      1. Lissa*

        I don’t think it’s any more fair to assume the LW or workplace is the problem – two employees struggling with mental health doesn’t mean the workplace should be blamed. If someone is struggling, critical feedback can easily be a factor that exacerbates things whereas most of the time that wouldn’t happen.

  2. amanda_cake*

    I don’t have any advice, but I would also be terrified to give feedback like the OP is. I would be so worried that my feedback (even if delivered kindly) would be a breaking point for someone. I know it wouldn’t be my fault, but the thought of it happening would tear my nerves up.

    Be sure to speak to your manager about this and see what sort of help they can provide you.

    1. Mama Bear*

      I would also take a look at the way the office or company runs – is this an indicator of something systemic in the company? Are people being overworked or underpaid? Are employees encouraged to have a good work/life balance? Do managers have open doors? Is there a good EAP program and are people encouraged to use it? Does the health insurance offer good mental or behavioral health coverage? It’s not the OP’s job to determine if their depression is situational or not, but on the chance that it is, then looking beyond the individual may be helpful. Beyond giving people valuable incremental feedback (small bites are usually easier to handle), OP may want to bring up some overall issues to HR or upper management if warranted.

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Yep. The silver lining is that these two instances could be a wonderful catalyst for a company-sponsored mental health program. Whether it’s an EAP or extending paid time off, or even having guest speakers that specialize in work-life balance, etc.

    2. Working Mom*

      I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for you – glad to hear that you have a therapist you can speak with. I echo Alison’s remarks in that you can deliver critical feedback in a compassionate way – and if you do that – you can stand in your own truth knowing that you did what you needed to, in the kindest way possible.

      My next recommendation, I want to preface with the note that I’m suggesting it because based on your letter I think you need it, but rather that it might help you be more at ease in the future. Can your employer recommend any manager trainings on communication/delivering feedback? If not; perhaps your EAP may be a good resource. EAP is not just for counseling, but they often have trainings to offer as well – if this has happened twice in your company (and unfortunately to you), it might be a good exercise for all managers to participate in a training of this nature. Again – not suggested because I think you need it – but because it might help you feel like you’re doing something proactively, and give you peace of mind to know you’ve done everything possible to help your team.

      1. Working Mom*

        Geez… missing word changes my whole comment. Second paragraph, first sentence, should say “….I’m NOT suggesting it because…”

        Oof. Sorry!

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I think this might be part of the answer to yesterday’s question, looking for happy people with high self-esteem. I thought that was just an awkward way of saying “perky” and no debbie downers, but it could be a (really) ineffective response to a situation like this.

  3. C in the Hood*

    Oh, OP, what a terrible position to be in. But don’t discount discussing all this with your therapist. I’m sure they can help you frame things in such a way that you can continue to manage as you intend.

    1. BronzeFire*

      I agree! These events are impacting your confidence in your ability to do your job. That’s starting to become pretty big-picture. Especially if these fears persist or follow you to another management position. I would frame it to my therapist as “hey, I know we’re working on my overall (blank), but this situation has me a little rattled. Can you give me some tools to work through it?”

    2. Bree*

      Yes, LW, please do speak about this with your therapist. I started seeing mine several years ago specifically because of anxiety caused by work issues, so we definitely dove into the details of my day-to-day work life. My challenges were less serious than yours, and it was still super-helpful.

    3. Siege*

      I agree! I have had friends go through suicide crises (I’m trying to think of better wording than “threatening to commit”) and there’s absolutely a second hand trauma that comes along with it. If it’s causing you significant distress, your therapist will want to hear about it.

  4. ThinMint*

    Oh OP! I was in a similar situation in the last year and it is so so tough. Having a therapist is a great start. I had to dial back my expectations for a few weeks and I had a lot of anxiety about not holding them accountable and doing them a disservice when I picked back up again. But for my own mental health, I had to take that time to work through all the emotions it brought up.

    What has slowly helped me realize what I did was ok and that continuing to offer feedback was the correct thing, was to look at my interactions with my employee and ask myself if I did the following things:
    1. Was I clear?
    2. Was I compassionate in my delivery?
    3. Did I make time to listen to them in that conversation?
    4. Did I document the issue?
    5. Was the a repeat offense and I have previously given them grace about it or had a lighter talk before this?

    If I was able to say yes to the questions above, I knew I had done as good as I could do. I also leaned a bit on my own supervisor to discuss situations. In cases where previously I would have felt comfortable addressing the issue on my own, I asked her before I did to make sure I was not clouded by the previous emotions/situation.

    Good luck and I’m sorry!

    1. rayray*

      I think this is great advice. No one enjoys negative feedback, but the way that you go about it makes a huge difference. I’ve cried at home after getting negative feedback in an incredibly rude and insulting manner, and I’ve also had many times where I walked away from a conversation thinking “Okay. I’m glad we got that cleared up, now I need to be careful to watch for x and y, and to ask Manager for help if I need it”

      I don’t know what it is with some managers – maybe it’s a power/control thing, or really just not empathizing with their employee. Maybe they don’t have any idea that *they* didn’t communicate expectations effectively…it could be anything. I like when problems are approached with the intent of solving the issue, rather than to get back at me and berate me for something. I don’t need my hand held and to be reassured, but I also don’t need gloom-and-doom making me believe I’ll cause the whole company to go under because of a teeny-tiny mistake.

    2. AMT*

      I like this framing. To expand on this, I think the LW might also be able to fight their anxiety and paralysis about giving negative feedback by thinking of the consequences of *not* giving negative feedback. What kind of work environment do you end up creating when there are no repercussions to bad behavior or poor performance? What would your workplace be like if no one could ever be fired? Sure, giving honest feedback might lead to some *acute* unhappiness, but not being able to give honest feedback and impose consequences is going to lead to *chronic* unhappiness (e.g. frustration over unequal workloads, anxiety about missed deadlines, apathy due to high performance going unrewarded, fear of coming into work from unchecked bullying, etc.).

      That way, when the LW gives negative feedback, they can say, “I know this feels unpleasant right at this moment, but it’s going to be even more unpleasant if I don’t! As long as I behave compassionately (follow ThinMint’s suggestions, behave in a generally kind way, etc.), I’m increasing net happiness, not decreasing it.”

      1. ThinMint*

        Yes, AMT!

        “I know this feels unpleasant right at this moment, but it’s going to be even more unpleasant if I don’t! As long as I behave compassionately (follow ThinMint’s suggestions, behave in a generally kind way, etc.), I’m increasing net happiness, not decreasing it.”

        I have to remember this too. And it’s not just about the employee’s happiness. If I don’t address the things that are continually a problem for my employee (and thus me) I am dragging out my unhappiness as well.

        1. Wintermute*

          Tagging onto that last part, it’s also about other employees’ happiness. Nothing destroys morale like someone who is obviously not pulling their weight and causing other people to have to take on undeserved work, fix their problems, clean up after them, etc. Looking big-picture is important: yes it’s important to be fair and kind to Bob, but it’s also important to be fair and kind to Jane, Jim, Kim and Sarah who have to work there too.

    3. JSPA*

      “did I ask them what they needed from me, to minimize the distress / did I work with them to make that happen, insofar as possible” would be a good one to add. Or if you prefer, “Is there a thing they need that I’m in a position to provide.”

      Your items 1-5 are more about, “would I find this reasonable in their position” or “can I document that I was fair in the abstract” than “did I try to do something that they feel they need.” If they and you saw the world the same way, that would not be a problem; but it almost goes without saying that quite a few of the people you have to fire don’t see the world the same way, or prioritize the same things, as you do. (That’s part of why they’re not working out in the job!)

      You may be expecting that the answer will be, “I want to keep this job,” or something similarly non-negotiable. But it may be as simple as, “I want to hear that you recognize what a struggle this is for me, and how much effort I’ve put into it, and that you noticed this list of things I worked to improve.” Or, “I want to hear that you know this is about my current situation, not about me as a person.”

      Or on a practical note, “I’d like to know that you’ll tell people that, aside from issue X and Y which were not negotiable in this particular job, you’d have no reservations about rehiring me.” Those often are things that you could do. Or maybe you negotiate to, “would consider rehiring for a job that doesn’t require X, Y or a lot of Z, but instead is heavy on A, B and C.” Or maybe a couple of months extra health care coverage / payment towards COBRA.

    4. Not usually anon*

      Thanks for this thread. I’m currently working through this with feedback to a junior colleague. Despite significant support, I’m not sure that they have the capability to do the job, and I’m trying to make sure I’m as fair as possible. (Disabilities/health conditions may be involved but I don’t officially know that.)

  5. JobHunter*

    Don’t take unexpectedly strong responses to your feedback personally. If your feedback was truthful, evidence-based, and communicated a clear set of expectations vs outcomes, you coached fairly. You are not responsible for their response or any outside factors that led to it.

    Have you heard of Mental Health First Aid? It’s a program designed to train (mentors, educators, etc) how to recognize signs of distress in coworkers or students and redirect the person to mental health services. I found the workshop very informative.

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, ultimately, even if you’ve had a fight with someone or fired them or gave them some especially strong side-eye, you’re not responsible for someone committing suicide or threatening it.

      1. Snark*

        And, conversely, getting fired or a bad breakup or whatever is not actually sufficient to get someone there alone.

        1. Wintermute*

          This is absolutely true and I think needs to be said. Ultimately you can contribute to someone’s mental state, but you lack the power to create their mental state. Realizing that is important because it helps you reframe how you view all interpersonal interactions, from outside and from inside. Other people can affect your circumstances but they cannot create a mental state in you, the totality of your circumstances are what is creating how you feel. Likewise, you can influence someone but you can’t ever totally control how someone feels. Taking too much ownership over other people’s emotions and internalizing that is like one person on a rowing team feeling totally responsible for their entire race results.

    2. Anal-yst*

      Came here to also mention MHFA.

      Psychological First Aid is another program that may be helpful. This is not to say that OP (or any responder) are responsible and should feel obligated to intervene but these programs may help you be empowered and offer a sense of reassurance that you responded appropriately.

      1. Anal-yst*

        Also adding: fwiw, ugh I am so sorry this happened. I have had people threaten suicide and deeply empathize with the anxiety in this letter. In my own life grounding myself and having a plan of action are both deeply helpful.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Thank you so much for having a resource to share. I was struggling and wondering if there was something out there like this. I’m going to push to have this as a required management course.

    4. LetterWriter*

      This is super helpful – I’m going to suggest it today. I had no idea there was anything like MHFA and I’m very intrigued.

    5. Koala-ty instructor*

      Woot!!! I am a MHFA instructor, it’s warming my heart hard core to see it mentioned here. It’s a really great curriculum.

    6. Harper the Other One*

      Another +1. There’s is a secondary course (called SafeTalk in our area) specifically relating to suicide prevention as well.

    7. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Really glad to hear that MH first aid has been useful because we’re having a course in a few months’ time.

  6. shhhh*

    Oh goodness, how awful for all of you. Do you have an EAP provider? I’ve used our EAP for manager consults when I have to prepare for difficult conversations, and sometimes for debriefing, and it’s always helped. If you have something similar, the more specific focus on your role as a manager might offer a bit more support. Best wishes, OP, to you and your staff. I hope things get better soon.

    1. Debbie*

      I’ve used EAPs for myself and for my daughter. They are wonderful resources. All larger companies need them!

  7. Observer*

    OP, please DO talk to your therapist specifically about your current issue. Sure, you need to deal with the bigger picture issues, but RIGHT NOW you are dealing with a problem that is affecting your ability to function. That’s something that you need to deal with as soon as you can. And, it’s quite possible that dealing with this will also help you with the bigger picture issues, as you will have broken one of the negative spirals that tend to happen.

    1. Dasein9*

      Yes! Not to mention, a therapist or counselor will have been trained to deal with this very issue and will probably have some great coping strategies to offer.

    2. joriley*

      Agreed–this is exactly what therapy is for! It feels like it would be going over the day-to-day minutiae of work, but the topic OP would bring up isn’t “how do I have this specific conversation,” it’s “how do I deal with this overwhelming sense of responsibility for other people’s mental health while I’m in a management role.” And that’s a therapy topic for sure.

  8. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Good on you OP for balancing all needs. One thing I would say though, is be kind and supportive, but don’t be held hostage from giving people feedback; don’t fall into a trap of thinking Sarah is going through a hard time, therefore I won’t give her that critical feedback.

  9. throwaway851*

    Buh, I cannot stress how much this is not about you. I had a horrible meeting at work right before I got sober, and I blamed my bosses for a long time for how badly I felt about the situation. The fact of the matter, while this may have *something* to do with the OP there is much more going on with the individual employees. And to echo Jennifer, it is manipulative. But depending on what is actually going on, the employees may not even realize they’re doing it! (Mental health is fun ya’ll). Stay strong, OP!

    1. Mid*

      Echoing this. You can be manipulative without meaning to be. In the past, I’ve done things that were Not Okay because my mental health was spiraling and I didn’t know how to deal with myself. It wasn’t malicious, and I hope the OP knows that they are 100% not to blame for this

    2. So very, very anonymous for this one.*

      Yes!

      I live with mental illness that involves suicidality. When I was younger and newer to living with my brain, I understood my feelings as being the result of the events that had directly precipitated them. Even though I didn’t actively blame other people, I still framed the situation (to myself) in a way that essentially assumed causality and begged for a culprit I also expressed my pain in ways that were scary to others. The intent was never to manipulate, but I’m sure that it came across that way to some of the the people involved.

      Now that I’m older and have a better understanding of things, I know that I feel this way because, for lack of a better explanation, that’s how I feel. It’s the pre-existing lens that means that when I’m not well, things that would otherwise be stressful, scary, or sad but handle-able seem un-handle-able. I also learned (thanks to many awesome people) that it’s actually possible to ask for help when I need it, in ways that aren’t manipulative.

      OP, you are not to blame for this. You can’t make other people suicidal.

  10. Snark*

    Honestly, my question is whether their reported suicidal ideation was genuine or tactical, but that’s mostly irrelevant.

    My question for OP is whether that direct and honest feedback occurred throughout their performance issue. I generally try to make it a practice to let someone know frankly and directly that a performance issue is job-threatening as early as possible. “This is a really, really critical issue, and if it continues without a meaningful trend towards improvement, it’s the kind of thing that’d make me reconsider whether or not you were a good fit for the position. Your job isn’t on the block now! But if I did not see see that kind of trend within three months and serious, meaningful improvement, I would be strongly considering letting you go at that point.” It might not be welcome news, but it can’t be a long series of oblique hints and “we need you to improve llama grooming” and the notion of firing only gets aired once you’re at that point.

    1. JobHunter*

      Agreed. If they have ignored or misunderstood clear feedback given along the way, that’s on them and not the OP.

      1. Snark*

        And no doubt, people do this! There’s been a number of letters here that have been like, “Sooo my employee Fergus sucks and I have to fire him but he doesn’t even understand why he sucks!”

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yup I’ve run into this.

          Me: Fergus, I have told you three times that on the days you are teaching llama riding lessons, you need to be 15 minutes early for your shift so you can start lessons on time. But you keep showing up 15-30 minutes after lessons started, and the students are stuck standing around waiting for you. So I am going to have Elizabeth cover your Tuesday lessons.
          Fergus: But you let Karen be late on Friday! And you let Wakeen be late on Wednesday!
          Me: Karen was on stall cleaning duty and Wakeen was in a car accident on the way in. Those are totally different situations.
          Fergus: But that’s not fair! You’re treating me different from them!

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Except the actual response here should be “I’m talking about you, Fergus, not Wakeen or Karen. I don’t discuss your performance with them and I’m not discussing their performance with you.”

      2. Observer*

        This is not on the OP in any case.

        Don’t get me wrong – clear and honest feedback is imperative, and as Alison says all the time, it’s actually a kindness. But threatening suicide it not a reasonable reaction even to genuinely and legitimately shocking feedback. Which is to say that either the person is in deep distress already or they are manipulative and not very nice. And if your workplace is not toxic, that level of distress is not on the workplace either.

        From what the OP writes, the workplace actually seems pretty reasonable.

    2. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      Thanks for this wording, Snark- it’s very kind, but gets right to the heart of the message that needs to be said.

    3. Clisby*

      Yes, we all (but maybe especially managers) should repeat every day: People aren’t mind-readers. When my kids were in preschool, teachers were good about prompting: “Use your words.” Don’t forget that just because you’re no longer < 3 ft. tall.

      1. Snark*

        My observation is that a lot of people tend to communicate best about the moment, not about the timeline. So you might have three conversations with Holden about how it was a bad idea to send a broadband message to the whole solar system when something unjust happened, and he’s like “okay, sure Fred,” but he’s like, okay, this time was kind of a mistake, I’ll only do it when it’s super necessary, and you’re like “you’ve started and ended three wars and if you do it again, you’re fired and I may push you out an airlock.” It’s the trend that’s important, but you’re not actually communicating the entire issue and your options for resolving it, it’s just a discussion in the moment.

        1. Snark*

          Also, I was going to do this where Avasarala was the boss, but I’m not sure she’d make it through moderation.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            Oh god, I love her so much, not least for all the F-bombs she drops. I can’t wait for the next season.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          SRSLY! Holden is kinda a jerk, and if he had a boss and I were that boss, I’d be questioning his judgement.

          Avasarala rules.

    4. Witchy Human*

      I completely agree, but it’s also important to note: you could have given your feedback in the most confrontational, unkind, out-of-the-blue way possible (don’t do that) but you would still not be responsible for an employee’s suicidal ideation.

    5. Wintermute*

      It’s quite possible that the feedback was, but they just wouldn’t take it onboard, or were prevented from it by some external circumstance.

      It’s quite possible for someone to have all the right intentions but just not be a good fit for the role, they can understand the issues are serious but just not have the skills it takes or the temperament or lack some other key piece.

      Also not uncommon are people that just don’t believe you’re serious, or they drastically misunderstand their own performance. I’ve seen people fired for things that were totally black-and-white, like attendance, who never thought they’d be fired! The employee handbook was very clear, their boss had coached them, they’d been through informal verbal, documented verbal, written and final written warnings and it was still a total shock. Other times I’ve seen people that just refused to believe they were performing as badly as they were, their bosses had talked to them, coworkers had informed them of caught mistakes, they’d had ample messages and conversations, and they claimed they totally understood, but at the end of the day they truly believed they were high performers, not substantially below par.

      So while it’s good to think about, if you think back and you did use clear language and concrete examples, it’s quite possible you did all you could and they just weren’t able to change or able to understand.

    1. Jess*

      +1
      If it happened once, I’d think it was about the particular employee. But twice suggests something systemic may be in the mix.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Or (not to be cynical), Employee #2 saw that it was effective for Employee #1 to get treated with kid gloves and get a lot of attention and so they tried it, too.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Or hearing about other people’s suicidal attempts/ideation can be a huge trigger for some people having similar problems themselves and it’s not all that weird to have two people with severe depression on a team.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            +1

            Suicide (and probably suicidality, but that’s harder to measure) is catching.

      1. Chris915NZ*

        Alison’s column is read globally though – I don’t think this is as useful a point as it would be for a website with a primarily single- nation focus.

        1. FindThisVeryInteresting*

          This comment doesn’t seem to be in the helpful spirit of this site.

          This has been brought up before and the consensus is that a plurality (likely even a majority) of the audience is in the US. And at least one other poster thanked cheeky for the advice, which would seem to indicate its value (I thought it was useful, too!).

          If you have a similar service for another country or region, it would be great to add for those who aren’t in the US, though!

        2. aebhel*

          I don’t think there’s anything stopping people from dropping other suicide prevention hotlines for other countries in the comments, though.

        3. Observer*

          So? Let’s not provide information for people because less than 100% of the people who see will be able to use it seems like a fairly silly reaction, to be kind. A more useful reaction would be “Given that there happens to be a global audience, here are resources for X countries/ does anyone know of resources for other countries?”

  11. Amber Rose*

    With the current state of the world, the prospect of unemployment is even more upsetting to people than usual. But the reality is, if they can’t do the job they don’t deserve to get paid for the job. The work has to get done properly so you all get to have jobs.

    All you can do is provide coaching and all the opportunities for success that you can and then go on from there. But I would recommend therapy if you can get access to it. Many people have had people in their lives threaten suicide, either seriously or as a manipulation tactic, and a therapist can help you work through the trauma that leaves you with.

    1. The IT Plebe*

      They have a therapist, but feel like they can’t talk about work minutiae with them. But OP, this is so wildly outside the realm of normal day-to-day work stuff that you really should reconsider. This situation has affected you deeply, understandably so, and something like this is why therapy even exists in the first place.

      1. Amber Rose*

        You’re right, I missed that line. Suicide threats are NOT minutia! And they aren’t a normal part of work either, so they doubly don’t fall into the “work minutia” category.

        That LW even thinks so is a sign of how deeply this has affected them. LW, we often dismiss our worst problems as being less important than they are. Almost everyone hates bringing things to their therapist because “it’s not a big deal” or “other people have it worse” or even “this isn’t something to be upset about.” This is what mental illness sounds like, these are the lies it whispers to you. It’s an even bigger sign that you NEED to bring this up.

        You can’t logic your feelings away. Every part of your mental health affects all the other parts. You can’t even get decent treatment for your other problems if you’ve got this one rattling around causing havoc in your brain without being addressed.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      The fear of becoming “unemployable” is a very real one.
      Being dismissed, laid off or heck, even quitting or leaving jobs due one’s own volition too soon can get you blacklisted and seen as undesirable, whether or not you actually did anything wrong! Oh, you left in a year because your commute got too long? Well, you’re a RISK to hire because you couldn’t stick it out. You left in two years because you got some horrible new manager? YOUR FAULT! Because you cannot deal with change. Etc.

      The US working world is not really friendly to a whole lot of people. Because today, doing one’s job is not even enough.

    3. Jenny*

      I am a trainer and I have had to recommend people be let go in the past (very few, I have overwhelming gotten new hires through the training). It is not something I relished. But ultimately if I have someone support and plans to move forward and they still aren’t performing, I have to do my job.

  12. Seifer*

    Right on the money. As someone with diagnosed clinical depression who has been suicidal in the pretty recent past, I want the feedback. I want all the feedback. I want to be able to see something and correct it in the moment or the day or the week instead of just going on for god knows how long doing something wrong because someone was afraid of hurting my feelings and driving me to suicide. But… if I was going to kill myself over that, it would still be 100% my decision. A really terrible decision and a really disproportionate reaction, but, so long as my manager is delivering the feedback kindly and respectfully, it would still be absolutely none of my manager’s fault.

    But if my manager was screaming and berating me on a daily basis… I think that’s where it gets murky, because I have thought about that before, when I had a shitty manager like that. Like, well, don’t have to go to work and deal with that guy if I’m dead, right. But in the end, I chose to leave the job instead of deal with that dude and instead of committing suicide. Would it have been his fault though, if I committed suicide? I don’t think so. It’s a shitty situation that was caused by my manager, but I still would’ve chosen my reaction to it and to him.

    And being on the other side, that’s really hard to deal with, too! I dated a guy for a while and broke up with him and he sent me photos of his self-harm and said that I did that to him. I felt horrifically guilty, kept thinking to myself that if I could just keep dating him, if I could just try harder to like him, if if if… but in the end, I wasn’t responsible for his actions. His friends made me feel terrible about it, but I was not responsible for his actions. Absolving myself of that guilt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I think this might be one of the situations where personal life experiences can be used to deal with work experiences.

    In this situation, you are only responsible for your own actions. So please be kind, but know that you don’t need to carry this guilt.

    1. Old Admin*

      Ah… how did the situation with the self harming guy play out after you absolved yourself of the guilt tripping?

      1. Seifer*

        He was totally fine. I checked on him on Facebook a few times and he was posting regularly, had a new girlfriend, got a new job. I realized later that it was manipulation, which made it much easier to absolve myself of the guilt.

        1. Old Admin*

          I applaud your strength! And I’m very glad you were able to see how manipulative Self Harm Guy was.

          I need to add that even if he *had* committed suicide or gone down the drain in some other way, it is *not on you*. There is a small percentage of cases were the worst – intentionally or unintentionally happens, and it STILL IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
          *gets off soapbox*
          *can you I’ve dealt with this before?*

          1. Seifer*

            Aw, thanks. Yeah, that was basically the thought process that let me let that crap go. It’s not my fault what he chooses to do in response to whatever I’ve presented to him.

      1. Seifer*

        Thank you so much. Yeah, it’s… a very strange feeling. It’s hard but you have no tangible “proof” that it’s hard which then makes you feel more shitty like, what gives me the right to feel shitty when people are homeless! starving! mutilated! why can’t I get over this! But I’m better now. And my boss has been super great with it all.

    2. Lehigh*

      I’m so sorry that you went through all that. And that old boyfriend was being incredibly emotionally abusive when he told you that *you did* his self-harm to him. That’s just awful. I’m so sorry his terrible friends went along with it.

      1. Seifer*

        Thank you so much. And yeah, he was, but at the time I didn’t realize it. I just kept trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, what could I do to make it better. What made it worse for me was that I was like, fifteen, sixteen? at the time, and also struggling with mental health issues and the subsequent denial of said mental health issues (no, little Seifer, anxiety attacks are not just “something all teenagers have”) so I was very, very unequipped to deal with it all. I think I ended up ghosting them all just because I was like. I don’t know what to do with any of that.

    3. Blueberry*

      Well said, very well said. I was going to write a similar comment but yours is better than mine would have been.

      1. Seifer*

        Thank you. And isn’t that sad, that so many of us had similar experiences that we can all make similar comments??? Ugh. Mental illness sucks.

  13. hbc*

    Sometimes, the only thing that pushes me to do the uncomfortable stuff like this is to imagine the alternatives. Would it be better to let them continue on and be blindsided by an actual firing? Can I justify having a group where I let people underperform and I just…let them? Or does someone get an indefinite pass on issues as long as they have a mental issue but the rest of the group has to pick up the slack?

    Your choices at work can have a huge impact on others, but if you know you’re choosing the best of all the unpleasant options, it makes it a little easier.

    As a side note, don’t hesitate to run this by your therapist. It’s okay to step back from the big picture sometimes and deal with the smaller thing that’s weighing you down right now.

  14. LGC*

    Also – I strongly encourage you to get support for yourself. That’s pretty traumatic for you as well!

    Okay, so you already have a therapist. But do your managers/management team know about this? You need to have someone have your back at least for the time being. This doesn’t mean handing off difficult conversations to someone else per se (although honestly, I would totally understand if you wanted to do so for the near term), but I can definitely see a situation where you’re just trying to keep it together at work and then dumping it on your therapist.

    1. LGC*

      And yes – I’m not sure what you mean by “bigger picture,” but…this is definitely appropriate to bring up with your therapist. (I just saw “therapist” earlier and assumed you were discussing it only with them – and then I read it over and saw that you were actually holding off!) Personally, I can’t think of things that are much bigger picture than “I had to deal with two mental health crises with people I care about and I’m dealing with the trauma.”

      I get the feeling that you’re the kind of person that doesn’t want to show “vulnerability” at work, but…honestly, it might be good to admit that you are having a hard time (given that this behavior is out of the norm for your field, which…I imagine it would be in almost every field).

    2. LGC*

      Okay, so I misread – bring this up with your therapist as well. I can’t think of a much bigger-picture thing than “I’m dealing with trauma because two people I have responsibility over threatened to kill themselves to my company.” (And yes, “trauma” is the appropriate word here.)

      LW, to me, it reads a little like you’re trying to pretend that everything is okay because you think that’s the professional thing to do, and your conflict is because you just can’t pretend everything is okay. I don’t know what your work culture is, but I’m guessing that if you’ve seen multiple people go through suicidal ideation, I’m also guessing that you won’t suffer that much blowback for admitting you’ve had a bit of a rough time dealing with it. (Even if you had one person, it wouldn’t be that alarming if you admitted you had a bit of a rough go in context.)

  15. VictorianCowgirl*

    OP, Alison is right in that you are not responsible for someone else’s suicidal thoughts. I want to add that ANY time anyone threatens suicide to stop you from doing something* it is absolutely 100% the sickest form of emotional blackmail and abuse (you are experiencing the effect of the abuse), and one of the worst ways in which empathy can be weaponized. There is NO excuse for this kind of manipulation especially in the workplace.

    The next time someone pulls a stunt like this on you, call 911 for suicide threat, have the ambulance come, they will be admitted for help. If they truly need help, they will receive it then. If they are manipulating, they will hopefully learn this isn’t a good technique.

    Please do talk to your therapist about this, it is upsetting you so much, and rightfully so. Having your empathy used against you and being on the receiving end of abusive manipulation are big picture That is what your therapist is there to help with.

    *I am not talking about someone taking their friend/confidant/partner aside and saying they’re struggling with suicidal thoughts in response to bad news. I am talking about its admission in DIRECT response to bad news: “if you leave me…”, “if this leads to you firing me…”, “if you can’t come on that girls’ weekend with us…” etc.

      1. Morning Flowers*

        Absolutely true.

        I’ve had one friend almost go through with a suicide attempt, at the tail end of a long, exhausting period of her being emotionally manipulative and abusive towards me. But even then, her suicidal plans were, for lack of a better word, genuine. She wasn’t trying to control me with them. She needed help. As *deeply* painful as the whole experience was, she wasn’t trying to get anything out of anyone. She just … needed help! And she got it.

        On the other hand, I had another friend once who frankly got off on how he could get all his friends to come running to help and support him when he said he was going to kill himself. In hindsight, we should absolutely have called 911, every. single. time. Because all that happened when we didn’t was that … well, he learned he could get all his friends to come running … until he couldn’t anymore, because every single person he knew got sick of his behavior and he had no friends left. If we’d treated his suicide threats as if they were genuine, even when we were 99% sure they weren’t, maybe he would’ve learned to stop the manipulative behavior before it lost him every friend he ever had.

        So yeah — call 911, either way. Either they need medical help, or they need to learn that threatening suicide gets 911 called. If it’s manipulative, they don’t *want* 911, so you’re short-circuiting the manipulation. Win-win.

        OP, you can get through this. Your therapist can help. We’re all in your corner.

    1. Atalanta0jess*

      OMG, THIIIIISSSSSS. This.

      And as a side note, this is really one of the only times I think it’s appropriate to say someone is “threatening” suicide. Honestly expressing suicidal ideation is not a threat, it’s an expression of feelings, it’s a request for help, etc.

    2. juliebulie*

      I wish I could notarize this comment for you, Victorian Cowgirl. But I don’t have any authority.

      I definitely endorse calling emergency services and asking for a welfare check when someone threatens suicide, for the reasons you give.

      It might be a manipulation. It might be sincere. That doesn’t matter. Either way, you show that you do care and that you take their comments seriously, but perhaps not in precisely the way they had hoped.

      Also, even when it is “just” a manipulation, if it doesn’t go the way they expected, it can be deadly.

      And maybe most important of all: Just because it’s manipulative doesn’t mean the person isn’t sick. (It doesn’t mean they’re not sick, either. Fortunately, that’s not for you to determine.)

    3. Boomerang Girl*

      I once had to lay off thousands of people. We had the location managers contact emergency authorities if any threatened suicide, looked like they may have a medical situation, or were threatening in any way.

      For proactive measures, I would advocate a team wide meeting to talk about how you will work with people to set expectations for their role, goals for specific years and quarters, have periodic conversations and course correct as needed. Make sure that everyone knows that this is journey and that you will be going along this journey together.

    4. Walked in the shoes*

      “I want to add that ANY time anyone threatens suicide to stop you from doing something* it is absolutely 100% the sickest form of emotional blackmail and abuse (you are experiencing the effect of the abuse)”

      Bullcrap. When I read crap like this it gets me so very angry. You speak as someone who has never been down the rabbit hole. You speak as someone who has never been in that dark place where the singular last thing you have been holding onto so very tightly as your last hope slips from your grasp and there is NOTHING left of hope. And in that moment you really do mean “If I lose my children then I will kill myself” because you will. You have the plan, you know EXACTLY how many tylenol to take for acetomeniphin poisoning to end the absolute despair you have plunged into. And F anyone who thinks actually putting those words out there is just a sick emotional abuse. It is quite often the last, desperate cry of a soul that has finally been crushed under a world of sorrows that you are incapable of understanding.

      Sorry if my post is offensive, AAM, this is something that I lived (through a major miracle) through and I get passionate about not tearing down those with mental health issues by shaming them further.

      1. Axel*

        “Putting the words out there” isn’t the problem. Experiencing those issues doesn’t make you a bad person, but using them to *threaten other people* is. So that you’ll take me seriously – I have been suicidal for YEARS on end in the past. I am not coming from a place of ignorance or not knowing what that feels like. But you can’t use your pain to threaten someone else into complying with your request. Having suicidal thoughts or plans or expressing that you have them is not abusive. Using that as a weapon against someone – whether or not you did so with intent to hurt them or just because you thought it would work to get your desired outcome – IS abusive behavior, and is manipulative and traumatic to the recipient.

        1. Walked in the shoes.*

          But it is not ALWAYS threatening. VCG stated that telling a person who is taking that last hope away that you are going to kill yourself is emotional abuse. And you and I know that is not true. When I attempted, I told my daughters goodbye, their mother was on the way to get them, that I was not going to able to see them anymore and that I loved them. Then I went into my room, locked the door and overdosed. I did not say those things to emotionally abuse them. I did them because I needed them to know what I was about to do was not their fault and that their dad loved them more than anything. My children were the only hope I had left in life. And my ex wife took them. And I will never see them again. Ever. People say “nobody can make you commit suicide” but that is a lie. When someone sets out to systematically take every bit of joy in your life away from you, they absolutely can make you suicidal. I am not saying the LW did that, just that it can happen.

          It took a long time to get to where I am not that wreck anymore. And there are days where I miss my daughters more than I can ever express. And my greatest fear is falling back down the rabbit hole.

          1. Avasarala*

            I’m so sorry that happened to you.
            What you’re describing is a little different. If you told your ex “If you take my daughters I will kill myself” then that is threatening suicide in order to influence and control their actions, and emotionally abusive. Simply expressing suicidal ideation is not, because the goal is not to affect others’ actions.

            But I have no doubt that your daughters hearing and experiencing that was deeply traumatic for them. And I hope they and you get the help needed.

  16. Anon Wednesday*

    I worked with someone–we were both freelance–who would threaten suicide *regularly.* Yes, she had genuine mental health struggles. AND yes, she was manipulative AF. Both can be true. I found myself in the position of talking her off the ledge quite literally more than once. I am in no way trained to do that. I had no resources of my own (EAP, as suggested above, for example). It was a nightmare. She was/is an intelligent, driven person with great skills but she was also seriously suicidal and had borderline personality disorder. One day I just cut her off. I told her I couldn’t work with her or even talk to her anymore. Done. She was extremely offended and told me that my “crispness” about the situation was inappropriate. I had rehearsed telling her this news with as much professionalism as I could muster–and THAT offended her, too. But I just could not. It was an utterly unfair position to put me in and one that was harming me professionally and personally. As far as I know, this woman is alive and working. But if she wasn’t, that would have nothing to do with me. There comes a point when dealing with someone else’s mental illness when the question isn’t “how can I help you/accommodate you?” but “are you well enough to be working at all if you are exporting your distress to everyone who comes in contact with you?” You need to sit down with HR/EAP and map out how you can do your job and feel calm and resourceful whether your employees can handle that or not. A person who can’t handle feedback is not ok to work, full stop.

    1. Jennifer*

      “A person who can’t handle feedback is not ok to work, full stop.” Exactly this.

      And this is more for everyone else than you – you do have resources, even if you don’t have an EAP or HR. There’s the suicide hotline or the non-emergency number for the authorities in your area.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      This also goes for people in, say, desperate financial straits. The straits can be real, and dire, and their attempts to get other people to step in and fix things manipulative a.f. Having true, deep problems doesn’t magically make people not manipulative.

  17. OH GOD BEES*

    I’m someone who lives with mental illness, including anxiety and depression. Work can be a big trigger for me, especially if I feel like I’m not succeeding, but that doesn’t mean that the *feedback* is the problem. I’ve come through a bit of a crisis this year, and my manager was (and is) a stellar support. I’ve been able to keep working (and working well!) while taking care of my health, and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on what made this a great experience for me.

    One of the main things has actually been able to rely on my manager for kind but clear and honest feedback about my work. When I’m struggling with my mental health, I feel like everything is going terribly and I am performing terribly – I have no objective sense of myself. Being able to trust that he will flag *actual* issues is very reassuring for me. When they come up, I also trust that he will speak with me about it privately and directly, and we’ll discuss how to prevent the issues going forward. This might mean changes to processes, reshuffling my workload, getting better models/templates/examples, or any number of things.

    Clear feedback actually gives me a sense of security and stability. While work stuff can impact my mental health, and vice versa, ongoing feedback also helps me keep it separate. I can be a good employee while working on my recovery, and that has really meant the world to me. Sure, sometimes I get emotional or down, but my boss also keeps good boundaries and that’s also comforting to me – when I’m struggling, I worry a lot about people treating me differently and that undermines my sense of self and professionalism.

    It means a lot to work in an environment where mental health isn’t ignored, but it isn’t centred – I’m a whole person, I’m a pretty great employee, and I very much value having a boss who trusts me to handle my health stuff, offers support where needed, but sometimes just silently slides the kleenex over and we can both pretend that I’m not crying a bit over something silly. Instead of being seen as sick, vulnerable, or emotional, I’m just an employee living with a health condition that can actually be accommodated pretty easily, especially since I can trust my boss to engage with kindness, clarity and good faith.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      This is an incredibly kind, thoughtful, and helpful comment. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  18. littlelizard*

    The employees’ reactions to reasonable feedback aren’t the manager’s fault, but am I the only one concerned that multiple people in this workplaces are suicidal? What’s going on at work?

    1. LGC*

      I can see this in certain fields – if it’s an especially stressful field, or if the employee base is more prone to MHI.

      In my case, I work with a lot of employees that have varying disabilities (including MHI) – so I fall under the latter category. It would definitely be alarming on an emotional level, but it’s not completely unexpected in my specific job.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Some fields have higher rates of suicide.

      In the end it’s not always the job. We have a high suicide rate some of it is due to the untreated mental illness and lack of access to assistance.

      I say this as someone who has had multiple family members who died of suicide. It’s not anything about their career. I come from a family with a lot of military background to say the least. It’s possible they are both suffering from outside sources and zeroing in on their jobs being the source of stress, not that the job itself is the actual cause.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yeah, I was going to say this too. It could be that the hiring pool for this particular job has an overrepresentation of persons with untreated mental illness. I worked somewhere where, while a lot of our low-level employees were fantastic and just passing through on their way to bigger and better things, or who had chosen a low-level job because it suited their life well, some of them stayed low level employees because they had various personal issues, such as untreated mental illness, that were career-limiting and made them ineligible for promotion or higher-level responsibilities.

        I can make an emotionally unstable drama llama fit in if she’s filling a coverage shift that we physically have no one else to do because she has good days 75% of the time. I can’t promote her into a supervisory role because she has bad days 25% of the time.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I come from a background of similar setups, we actually have pretty much specifically given vulnerable populations jobs, which comes with substance abuse histories as well. Prolonged substance use can cause these kinds of things as well, since they’re self-medicating in the end.

        2. Oh So Anon*

          I can make an emotionally unstable drama llama fit in if she’s filling a coverage shift that we physically have no one else to do because she has good days 75% of the time. I can’t promote her into a supervisory role because she has bad days 25% of the time.

          This is sometimes (not always, but sometimes) the case with people who’ve never been able to transition from temp work to something longer-term. Someone I know is in this situation and blames it on having graduated into a recession well over a decade ago. Seeing how she interacts with people, it is more likely that her mental health and social communication issues (i.e. almost entirely incapable of handling coaching or feedback in an appropriate manner) is why, despite her training, she cannot find work beyond data entry positions where she has limited interaction with others.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      It could be that work is unusually stressful. It could be that through statistical happenstance, a workplace is going to have two people feeling suicidal where most offices have 0-1. It could be that employee 2 saw how well it worked for employee 1 and adapted the same tactic. (Which for employee 1 might have been sincere.)

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Also those who struggle often find companionship with others who suffer from their same afflictions. So it could be that they’re friendly and feeding off each other in a way.

        So to go off of your idea of employee 2 saw it employee 1 do it, it can very well trigger the other person. So they both very well may be suicidal.

        You don’t have to show signs or ever speak of suicide to actually be contemplating it, it’s more common than most of us will ever understand.

    4. Lora*

      I agree, but I think this is something OP should really pull HR and senior management in to help – can they get an occupational psychologist or someone to come in and do an evaluation of the situation or the entire organization?

      I mentioned this below, but there are some particular graduate programs in my field that have had multiple suicides, sometimes in the same year – and definitely exacerbated by their managers directly. There was one recently at University of Wisconsin which was directly linked to his work environment, and specifically an extremely abusive PI who was notorious for screaming abuse, throwing things, etc. Harvard’s chemistry department is a notoriously awful place to work and has been tied directly multiple students’ suicides and mental illness issues. But, and this is important – those same places are also notorious for high turnover, lots of extremely unhappy people in general, and all the assorted other problems you can think of when you combine 90+ hour workweeks, supervisors who think hurling things at your head while shrieking that you’re a monkey is a great way to convey constructive criticism, senior management who doesn’t give a crap and access to lots of poisons and things that go boom. We’re talking Hellmouth levels of awfulness, except students are trapped there for 5-7 years and told that if they fail out or leave or don’t do the project they’re assigned, they are horrible terrible loser idiots who will never have a job. And you don’t fix that level of dysfunction by one manager deciding to deliver critiques in a more sensitive way, it’s too much for one person.

      I sincerely doubt that OP’s workplace is EJ Corey’s Lab level of horrible, but I also know that if I was OP’s manager and I heard about two direct reports threatening suicide, I would start looking for other signs that something wasn’t right in the organization.

    5. Missy*

      OP says that both employees were worried about job loss, so it isn’t necessarily that the feedback is the issue, or even that there is something about this workplace, but that there may be circumstances about the job market or economy that is leading to this.

      If OP’s company is the only one in the area then losing the job could be devastating. They would have to move, sell their home (and maybe that home is underwater because of the housing crash), and what about taking care of their Mother who also lives in this town. There are a lot of people who are living one paycheck from homelessness. So it sounds like the suicidal thoughts aren’t about the feedback, but about concerns that negative feedback=will be fired=terrible fate because of larger economic forces. If these larger issues are the problem then nothing about the work or OP will fully fix them, outside of a contract or some sort of guaranteed severance package.

  19. inlovewithwords*

    Hey, OP, just here to say I sympathize completely and that this is 100% an issue to bring to your therapist! I’d say it’s way more important to bring than the day-to-day venting, since what you need are tools for how to manage your own anxiety about it and for how to sensitively handle people in this really hard place in their lives. A therapist is perfect for that. Please talk to them!

    All the best to you and your workplace. This is not your fault, and I hope things get better soon.

  20. Pieska Boryska*

    Did those two employees know each other? Did they tell you they were having suicidal thoughts or did you hear it from someone else? Do your reports tend to confide in you about personal things? It sounds like you have the compassion part covered, but do you have good boundaries? It’s hard to know what’s going on but strong professional boundaries are important. Gently refer to EAP and ask if they need accomodations if they tell you they’re having mental health problems, but don’t allow yourself to be their therapist or avoid managing them indefinitely. Call 911 and let the professionals handle it if they directly threaten suicide. If another employee says your report is suicidal, tell them you have to call 911 if that’s true and ask the report directly.

  21. Dust Bunny*

    Absolutely *do* bring this up with your therapist!

    But if these employees are in such bad places that they cannot handle relevant, correctly-presented feedback, then they have bigger problems than you are in a position to address, and something else/more needs to be done.

  22. Spencer Hastings*

    “In fact, being kind can make it easier to hold a high bar, in that when you do need to give critical feedback, you ideally have a foundation where people trust you to look out for their interests along with the team’s.”

    This is kind of off-topic for this letter, but I wish this concept were more widely understood! I’ve seen so many examples of people who berate their reports/supervisees/etc. for minor mistakes (or just out of the blue) and then express surprise when those underlings don’t trust them, or don’t feel entirely empowered to take the risks they need to take in order to do their jobs.

  23. voyager1*

    I am 100% on team “call the ambulance/EMS/Police” if they threaten suicide at work over critical feedback. Let them have a 72 hour involuntary hold (and the medical bills that follow) for their emotional blackmail.

    People can have mental health issues and still be emotionally manipulative.

    Hang in there LW.

    1. MissElizaTudor*

      This seems…incredibly disproportionate. Threatening suicide over feedback is manipulative and horrible, but having someone kidnapped and potentially in a lot of debt is also terrible, especially if you’re doing it as revenge, not out of concern (it’s not always a good idea to involve authorities out of concern, either, but at least it isn’t meant to be punishment).

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Most workplaces have an emergency action plan which lists the criteria for calling law enforcement or EMS, especially on an employee. (For example where I worked, someone threatening suicide over a work performance evaluation would be a worker’s comp issue and we’d have to follow the worker’s comp emergency action plan, not the general facility emergency action plan.)

    2. Anon Wednesday*

      Eeeee… I’m definitely *not* on team “stick it to them with 911.” That can go very bad, very fast, and no, emergency/medical services are not there to use on manipulative people as revenge. As someone who has had to call 911 on someone suicidal more than once, I can say: do it when you genuinely think you need EMERGENCY services, absolutely. Voyager1, it can be as traumatic for the person calling in help as it is for the person on the receiving end. If you’re doing it as some kind of tit-for-tat, DON’T.

    3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      Please don’t do this.

      If someone is stressed about possibly losing their job, adding a large debt can’t possibly help. Neither can making it clear to them that telling a coworker they’re under that sort of stress will be punished.

      And if you don’t care about the coworker you’re having imprisoned for 3 days because they overreacted and upset you, think about it in terms of medical resources. That’s an ambulance crew who won’t be available for another patient who needs them, a hospital bed occupied, and a variety of medical workers’ time taken up.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa, there is absolutely nothing in the letter that indicates this is emotional blackmail or manipulation. Do not make up facts that aren’t in the letter, especially when they’re so stigmatizing to people with genuine mental health struggles.

  24. Lora*

    It sounds like your organization has some kind of system in place for dealing with this, which is good. Definitely follow established health care protocols for dealing with people who have threatened suicide! Get help, encourage them to call suicide hotline numbers, call 911 if you need to. I know too many people try write it off as “person is just trying to get attention” or “they’re not serious, they would never do such a thing” and then are shocked when either the person attempts for real and maybe succeeds.

    You’re definitely right to be concerned that this seems to be forming a pattern though. Are there any other signs of dysfunction in your organization that might indicate other employees are unhappy there for whatever reason? I would look for things like high turnover, chronic absenteeism, lots of sick time taken to the point that people are taking unpaid sick days to avoid work, sort of thing – those are better indicators that there’s something wrong in general, rather than it’s something else. Is there a local demographic pool your workers come from that would be a potential source – I’m thinking here of the JAMA study this past September showing that suicide rates have risen significantly in the rural US among men age 25-64.

    Honestly though, this is a thing much bigger than you alone can handle. Even if it was just, “OP, you are lousy at managing people and giving feedback!” then your employees would be looking for transfers to other departments or simply quitting in droves. When multiple people start discussing suicide, that is an overall cultural problem – whether local culture or the organization’s culture, who knows. I’m thinking here of various graduate school programs in my field where there have been multiple suicides, within the same organization, sometimes within the same year – they are (still) horrible working environments, but it wasn’t *only* because the managers in question are horrible nightmares to work for, it was because there was no support from any senior management or the university administration for these people, and working for these particular a-hole abusive scientists was presented as the One True Way to have a decent career.

    I guess what I am saying in terms of actionable suggestions is, maybe consider how the company in general could establish some support for whatever the root cause might be – whether that’s training for management or support specific to the community your talent pool is drawn from, or something else, but it definitely isn’t something you can do alone – you should have help from social workers and/or occupational psychologists in this.

  25. NW Mossy*

    I’ve definitely had these kinds of worries too, especially after having two employees in mental health crisis at the same time. You know that you have a lot of influence on their day-to-day when you’re the boss, you care about them as people and want them to be well, and sometimes it feels like your Boss role and Decent Human role are in conflict with each other. Alison’s framing is what I continue to come back to when I’m worrying – withholding the feedback that people need to improve and grow is not a kindness, no matter how well-intentioned we are.

    One practical suggestion that’s helped me when I’m reluctant to give feedback is to focus on the easy wins – give positive feedback! I’m sure you find plenty in what your team does every day that’s worthy of a quick aside to praise a deftly worded email or a good catch, and through repetition, it builds the habit of giving feedback easily and often. When we’re tackling a fear, creating situations where we can do the thing we fear in conditions we know are safe can help defuse our anxiety.

  26. Senor Montoya*

    Not a manager, but I work with college students and I often have to give them critical feedback. Sometimes I have to tell them that the plan they’ve had for their life for years (and, that their family or community has had for them too) is not going to happen — usually because of their own actions.
    And on occasion this is one of the experiences that leads the student to consider suicide.

    It’s really really hard not to *feel* in some way responsible, even when, logically, you *know* you are not at fault. Because you are a decent human being.

    Alison’s advice is good, in particular approaching the giving of critical feedback or bad news as being the very kindest thing you can do, and the most ethical thing you can do as well. It’s particularly cruel to let someone think they are doing fine and everything will work out when you know it won’t. Two other things I do: I let the student know that we can discuss *what’s next*, what’s the next step the student can take, what are the solutions or alternatives. It doesn’t have to be right at that same meeting — often they need time to digest. But I set up a follow up meeting where we will work on an action plan.
    The second thing is, I know what my resources are and how to “refer out”. I’ll suggest the counseling center and I’ll walk a student over there, for instance. Or I can direct them to advisors or financial aid, or whatever. It sounds like you did exactly this — you did the right thing in each case to help your employee both as a worker AND as a person. A lot more than many managers would do.

    I wonder if it would be useful to attend a training on responding to mental health issues? Possibly HR has something like this?

    I really feel for you, OP. From my perspective, you are a good manager and a good person, and you are doing the right thing.

  27. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Having just recently dealt with a similar issue [not feedback related though], fresh off the back of a relative dying of suicide just a couple of weeks ago. I’m truly sorry that you’re in this spot, it’s natural to start to worry and think that you may be the cause of their decision in the end.

    In the end, nobody is the cause for the decision. The mental illness is the cause. Not you. Not their mom. Not their ex-partners.

    Be compassionate but know that there are limits. You are not a doctor. You cannot have someone committed [it’s pretty much impossible to get people committed unless they show very specific dangers to themselves and others, words are not enough.]

    I’m glad you have a system as an employer to address these things. Really, they may need to seek in patient help but again, it will have to be their choice if they want that.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Thank you. It’s a difficult time but I find it freeing that I don’t have to hide it, like so many other families feel they need to. I’m not ashamed of him and he was an important person who died of an illness in the end.

        1. Grey Coder*

          I’m sorry about your relative. A few years ago I was introduced to the idea of a “mental illness which became terminal” and I’ve found it helpful.

    1. Blueberry*

      That is very well said, and I’m really sorry you’re in this situation. May you ad your family be comforted.

  28. StaceyIzMe*

    I’m glad that you have a therapist! But- you may also need additional support! Specifically- is your therapist experienced with helping people through the aftermath of traumatic events? You’re paralyzed, anxious and unable to perform at the level that you need to be able to. You need specific, concrete and highly skilled support. Consider asking your therapist about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or other therapies that have proven effective with reducing difficulty after exposure to trauma. It may take something beyond talk therapy to get you there. If you’ve ever considered yoga, journaling, dance, art, vision boards, walking barefoot in grass, meditation and a consciously chosen diet- these are habits that can also be helpful catalysts towards full recovery. You can consider adding a coach with whom you role play these difficult conversations (someone with a grief certificate or trauma informed practice- beyond conventional coaching, and get references before hiring). You CAN and SHOULD take very good care of yourself and do it in a strategic, conscious, consistent manner. I’m rooting for you (as I’m sure the other commentators are, too!).

  29. Sunflower Sea Star*

    This is so tricky!
    One thing I wanted to say is that you might be inclined to respond to these experiences by not giving the regular day to day feedback, and find yourself in a situation in the future when someone is completely blindsided by feedback because it only comes as one big wallop when things are really bad.
    IMO feedback should be regular (both positive and negative as appropriate.) as things happen. And patterns can and should be addressed in scheduled 1:1 meetings.
    So regular day to day feedback would be things like:
    “Adelaide, I looked over your report. The numbers look good and I agree with the trends you identified. There were a bunch of typos, so I’ll need you to be more careful in your proofreading.”
    “Sarah, you missed the deadline on that article, and it delayed Bob’s work. Please don’t let that happen again.”
    “Nathan, I noticed you spoke harshly to Arvide this afternoon. I need you to show more respect for coworkers.”
    But patterns can be addressed would be more like:
    “Sky, you’ve been late an average of 3 times a week this month, which means that Jule has to stay late to cover for you. What can you do to make sure you arrive on time?”
    “Harry, I’ve noticed you interrupting and speaking over women in meetings a lot lately. You don’t do this to men. I need you to stop interrupting and speaking over people.”
    “Benny, you’ve missed more than half your deadlines in the last three months, and we’ve talked about this several times. I’m not seeing any improvement, and this cannot go on. You need to know that your job is at risk here.”

  30. !*

    I do wonder what type of feedback these employees were given, and now that they are safe, was the feedback taken or are they back to how they were previously that led to the feedback? It it just not possible to know what may set someone in the the direction of suicide, especially if you don’t know the other factors in their lives. You can only do your job, which sounds like you did well after learning of the threats (which were not told to you directly but secondhand). We all have the potential to get negative feedback, how we react to it is on ourselves, not the person providing the feedback (unless it’s just a tactic of ongoing bullying which I’m not getting is the case here).

  31. Mayflower*

    Would it help OP to call a suicide help line and get their perspective? Not sure if this is a good idea or not, perhaps others can weigh in?

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      That’s a valid use for a suicide help line, but since the LW has a therapist, that’s probably the better person to talk to.

  32. Bagpuss*

    OP, I have ben in that situation and it is horrible.
    It is also not your fault, or your responsibility.
    Your responsibility it to be clear in your feedback, and to be thoughtful and kind in how you deal with people.

    We had an employee (since moved on to another job) who had mental health issues, ahich did include them making threats of self harm / suicide.
    They also had a lot of work related issuess, including being extremely resistant to change (including changes wheich were required in order to comply with regulatory requirements of our industry, and changes which were necessary in order to be able to do their job)

    They were also extremely selfish and could be very manipulative.
    We did deal with once instance where they left the office stating that their intention was to take their own life – we did notify their spouse and the police .

    It is horroble to deal with, and I know would have been incredibly hard if they had in fact harmed thmselves after having had feedback BUT their illness was not something which we, as their employer , caused – we were as supportive as we could be, and you cannot not give feedback or manage someone as a result of an illness.

    Things you could potentially consider, moving foward:
    – Consider talking to these individuals when you are not giving them feedback, to ask whether there is anything specifc that would be helpful for them in future. For instnace, would they prefer to have feedback in writing rather than in a meeting? Are there any issues around timing that would help (e.g. having either more, or less, notice of metings with you) Would they like to be ofered the opportunity to have a supportive co-worker with them during a meeting? If your organisation is large enough for it to be available, would they like to have the opportunity to speak to someone through your EAP during / immediately after the meeting? Is there anythign else specifc that they can suggest that would make it easier for them, in how feedback is given.

    none of these things are inviting the option of not giving feedback at all, just in thinking about whether there were specifc aspects of how it was done that could be varied.

    If the feedback is about stuff which amounts to disciplinary issues, then it may be worth looking more widely at your company’s policies and whether these could be adjusted,.

    I am in the UK, and here, where someone is subject to disciplinary process, they have the right to be accompanied to any disciplinary hearing, and to be told in advance what the issues are. It may be worth considering whether it would be helpful to have something simialr as part of your policies. It has a couple of benefits – one is that the person has a chance to prepare and to have a supportive co-worker with them if they want, and aslo it means that if you are having conversations where you haven’t followed those steps,they are ni being ormally disciplined, which may help reduce any anxiety .

    So, feedback where you are telling thme what neds to improve and that you might moce towards putting them on a performance improvement plan wouldnt require those formal stepps, but a further meeting where you were planning to put them on a plan with specifc consequences if they couldn’t met the requirements would, so they would have writtten nptoice of that meeting, why it was being called, and of their right to be accompanied.

    Here, the legal entitlement is that you can have a Union rep or a co-worker with you.

    1. LilySparrow*

      The “supportive co-worker” is a practice I’m not familiar with.

      Does the co-worker get consulted separately ahead of time as to whether they are willing to take on this role? I can easily envisage situations like the letter where someone wanted their co-worker to support them through an anxious situation, but the person being asked was reluctant.

      Is there social/cultural pressure that being someone’s support person isn’t really optional? Or does the support person have the chance to opt out without being the bad guy?

  33. Pip*

    I have a somewhat related issue… we have a relatively new employee whose personal social media account I have come across. (She thinks she’s incognito, but at one time her name was linked with this account and it still comes up in a Google search, and it’s definitely hers.) I don’t read it very much, but what I do read is sometimes alarming – she has a lot of anxiety issues and is drinking a lot on top of medication, has suicidal ideations, and has sometimes posted that she comes in to work and hides under her desk for hours (we work on different floors so I don’t see her that much). I feel bad for her, but now she has started to have excessive absences from work (and isn’t going about requesting them the right way, she just emails everyone and says she isn’t coming in). I don’t know how to breach this topic with my boss who is beginning to get exasperated at her absenteeism. I feel like someone should know where she’s at and get her more help or perhaps change her duties so she isn’t so anxious or isolated at work. Yet although her social media isn’t a private account, I hesitate to tell others about it.

    1. RedLineInTheSand*

      Why don’t you talk to her about it? Tell her you came across her account so you started following it and you’ve become concerned that she may need help. Just letting her know that she can reach out to you may nudge her in the right direction. If that’s something you don’t want to take on, suggest that your boss find her on social media for more insight (without providing your conclusions).

    2. LGC*

      I think you’re on base with not mentioning her social media. Like RedLine mentioned, you can kind of mention it offhandedly to her (like, “hey, is everything okay” as opposed to “WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS WHEN YOU’RE BOOZING AND CHUGGING XANAX”), but I wouldn’t mention it to your boss. I think it’s best if any details about her troubles come from her.

      I would subtly encourage her to seek help if she seems open to it. That’s pretty hard to read, so I’d err towards not suggesting it if you’re not reasonably sure she is open to it. And yes, it’s on her to tell someone at work!

  34. Elizabeth*

    One of my close colleagues is on the board of a local not-for-profit that does suicide prevention work (his wife is the executive director). I read the post to him. His response: “When someone tells me that they have suicidal thoughts, my first question is always ‘Do you have a plan?’ If the answer is no, they aren’t serious. If they do, then it is time to involve trained professionals who can provide more help than I can.” For us, that means getting them to the safety of the emergency department and nurses who are specifically trained to assist with those in crisis.

    You are not responsible for the thoughts or actions of another person. If you provide clear feedback that your employees can use to improve, then you are doing the best thing possible. Compassion in this instance isn’t not making them accountable.

    1. AnonyNurse*

      This is somewhat simplistic and be their own coping skill in clinical practice but is certainly not a technique that someone’s manager should be using to assess risk.

      Similar to safety contracts, acknowledging a plan doesn’t a) guarantee the person intends to use it and b) isn’t always an honest response. In a clinical setting, you also ask about not just plans but access to lethal means (ie guns or pills). And you can become jaded, much as emergency rooms roll their eyes at “chest pain” that turns out to be kidney stones. It’s not helpful to dismiss people so easily no matter how many times you’ve seen it. They’ve only had it once.

      A psychiatrist I worked with would ask people “where on your list is suicide?” She acknowledged that people struggling with mental health had likely thought about suicide in their list of options. How high on the list is it?

      Mental health and suicide are complex. There is no one magic question.

      1. So very, very anonymous for this one!*

        Yes, yes, yes. To all of this!

        Suicide is complicated and diverse. The fact that someone does not have a plan does not mean that they are not “serious” (!!!), nor does it mean that they don’t need help. People can and often do suicide impulsively, in unplanned ways. People can and do suffer from suicidality and mental illness while actively working to stay alive. People can and do lie about having a plan.

        “Do you have a plan” is a conversation starter, not a cypher into the severity or nature of someone’s condition. The question works in conjunction with that larger conversation, to help you better understand the urgency/closeness with which the person is envisaging dying. It also gives you information to help the suicidal person protect themselves.

      2. OrigCassandra*

        Goodness, I hope healthcare folks don’t roll their eyes at kidney stones!

        I had one a few years ago. The pain it caused was astounding. I sure hope I never have another.

    2. Anon Wednesday*

      I have to say, if you are involved in mental health care or work with suicidal people, asking “do you have a plan” probably sounds like a normal question, but to me–it never occurred to me once when dealing with a suicidal coworker to ask that. And I have no idea what I would have done with the answer! I am not a trained mental health professional! And I do not want to be! I am not qualified!

      Looking back at my experience, I ask myself: if I knew then what I knew now, what would I have done differently? And for me, I would have referred her to professional services earlier and washed my hands of her personally and professionally sooner–for *my* sanity. But I wouldn’t have stepped in to assess her state of mind with a question like that, because I want nothing to do with assessing and treating mental illness. I’m still sure that that isn’t something I should be doing. And I don’t think it’s genuinely helpful to tell the general public they should ask these assessment questions. I can certainly be useful to know, like knowing CPR is useful, but it’s not something the average person is ever going to be good at or should be expected to master.

    3. Delphine*

      You can still have suicidal ideation without having a plan. The plan is about whether or not you’re in imminent danger, not whether or not your feelings are serious and signal that it’s time to get help.

    4. Perpal*

      I think this applies WAY MORE to a clinic/health care scenario than a workplace scenario.
      This is something I have to go through as a doctor; more so when I was in primary care than oncology, and all the time when I was in a psych rotation.
      — esp with the psych rotation there is a “Review of systems” where “do you have thoughts of harming yourself” is asked. Routinely. To everyone.
      — if you have a “yes”, it would be redic to send everyone to the ED for obs and further psych eval. No. You have to determine what this means, and how serious a threat it is. Just like any other organ dysfunction; coughing? Figure out what might be causing it based on history, exam, maybe a chest xray etc. All outpatient. Can’t breath and O2 sats are low? Go to the ED now, call a rapid or code if becoming unresponsive.
      So, for someone who is in health but not necessarily mental health, next steps are to figure out risk for suicide; is this a vague idea “oh yeah, I’d never do it, I just wonder sometimes” vs do they have a plan, a means, a history of prior attempts “I’d go and do X, I do have [lethal thing] on hand at home, I was hospitalized last year with [serious injuries] from prior attempt” and we do even ask “are you safe to go home” and then call if not.
      So, that’s in a clinic; a workplace really doesn’t have any business routinely asking “do you have thoughts of harming yourself” so if it’s getting brought up as a response to stress that is a higher risk situation and pretty much have to bring in urgent health resources to more fully evaluate.

  35. RedLineInTheSand*

    Speaking as someone who had serious suicidal thoughts years ago, because of my boss and how she treated me, the fact that you care enough to ask shows me that you are probably doing all the right things. No one is responsible for anyone else’s mental health (outside the common rules of treating everyone appropriately with kindness, etc).

  36. OP/LW*

    Hi All – I have to say that the above advice and the comments here are absolutely so helpful. I will be talking to my therapist today and working out a way to make sure no one else feels as unprepared as I did.

    To clear up some confusion – we did the proper steps of notifying authorities and handled it the best way we could each time. It is just the aftermath in which I am having trouble with – a lot of the resources here are very helpful and I am so impressed by the team of amazing professionals that live in the comments.

    I’ll be talking to my direct supervisor today and will come up with a game plan but know I feel so much more validated and understood in this trauma thanks to you.

    Thank you.

    1. LGC*

      To be fair, OP, I’m pretty sure very few people would be prepared for this! And handling a mental health emergency is tough.

      I’m glad you’re going to talk to your therapist and your direct supervisor. You’ll get through this – it sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders.

    2. AnonyNurse*

      Thank you for caring. And I respect your wisdom in knowing you need support as well as the empathy that shows. You’re a good human doing the best you can.

  37. RC Rascal*

    This is an odd situation. My thoughts are to first take a look at your management and feedback style. You may be harsher than you think, or have a passive aggressive style that needs addressing. Secondly it’s possible that the second employee is copying the first as a strategy because you backed off after the first person threatened to do something drastic. Thirdly— your workplace may be high stress or attract fragile employees. My two cents.

    1. Observer*

      My thoughts are to first take a look at your management and feedback style. You may be harsher than you think, or have a passive aggressive style that needs addressing.

      No! Unless the OP is regularly abusing their reports it is totally unfair to blame them for the threats of suicide. Please stop that.

      1. Toes C*

        No, two people discussing suicide in response to OP’s feedback is as big an indicator that there could be that the feedback style needs should at least be questioned. No one person can be assigned blame for another’s suicide, but it sounds like adding a supportive supervision component may be very appropriate.

      2. Avasarala*

        It’s not about blame, but it might give peace of mind to OP to know that they’re improving their managing style so it’s definitely all on the employee how they choose to respond.

  38. Yeah No*

    Hey Alison, can you please do something about the offensive comments on this post? Speculation that mentally ill employees are faking aspects of their conditions is just… disgusting beyond words and ableist. I’ve never been so upset reading comments on this site before. Where do people get off saying that these employees are faking as some sort of tactical maneuver? There is no indication of that from the OP’s letter, and this just really, really upsets me.

    1. Delphine*

      I agree. The employees had mental health struggles, the OP and her employer clearly took the matter seriously. Let’s stop calling it a “stunt” and implying that it’s absolutely manipulation (and suggesting that we should weaponize the police and healthcare services against people like the employees in the letter). It’s irrelevant to the matter at hand, which is how OP can recover from those situations to advise her employees.

    2. Pieska Boryska*

      Because unfortunately it’s common. We all wish manipulative abusers didn’t exist but the fact is they do and the possibility that LW is dealing with one (or two) affects her options.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        But it doesn’t affect her options. The answer is the same no matter the motivation for the notification of suicidal ideation. The speculation does little beyond spreading the stigma of mental illness.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I say this as someone who hates / loathes / despises abuse and the way it destroys the bonds of trust that are so important between people. But it’s not good to discuss abuse at the expense of people struggling with mental illness.

          1. Perpal*

            Yeah, the actions are the same, and it costs nothing to assume it comes from a place of pain rather than manipulation.
            Depression suicide threat – get mental health urgently involved (work out with your workplace what sort of emergency mental health response teams are available ahead of time; presumably OP is aware as they have already been through this); review actions to ensure something wasn’t horribly messed up, but don’t let it control or limit the reasonable/normal you do or were trying to do – hopefully person gets better with TLC and can return to normal activities with everyone else
            Abusive/manipulative threat – get mental health urgently involved; review actions to ensure something wasn’t horribly messed up, but don’t let it control or limit the reasonable/normal you do or were trying to do – hopefully person realizes that behavior didn’t get them what they wanted and won’t do it again

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Alison doesn’t always get a chance to read all comments, especially when they are something that are attracting a lot of attention.

      If you want to flag something for her, sending a comment directly to moderation helps! Since those pop out at her.

      The ones you’re speaking of, if you comment with a link, that’ll send it into moderation. I usually just use a link to google or whatever random home page you may have is.

    4. Important Moi*

      I am surprised at the number of folks invoking “kidnapping” in response to non-medically trained people responding to the threat of suicide.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m not surprised at all.

        This is why mental illness is still kept in the shadows by many, it’s the ignorance of how one should treat their symptoms. “You’re not depressed, you’re just having a bad day! SMILE! Smiling will cure it!” along with “oh you can just have them committed!”

      2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        In my case, that was in response to the person suggesting that a 72-hour involuntary hold plus the cost of an ambulance ride were appropriate punishment and/or deterrent for someone saying they felt suicidal. Health care should not be a punishment. (I know, that’s idealistic. But it’s not unreasonable idealism to decide that if I think something is unethical, I won’t do it.)

        There’s a world of difference between “do you need to go to the psych emergency room?” and possibly calling an ambulance and offering to ride along, and “I’m going to call 911 , so the ambulance ride and involuntary admission will stop you from talking about suicide again. ” Taking someone seriously might mean calling 911; it might also mean packing their pajamas, toothbrush, and favorite book to make the hospital stay a bit less unpleasant.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This reminds me of the awful treatment that used to be given to survivors in the hospitals.

          They’d be cruel about it the entire time and leaving you a mess, shivering after getting your stomach pumped because “you did it to yourself and then I had to deal with you.” Despite the whole “First do no harm.” part, argh.

          They’ve started doing better but these people still exist of course.

          1. voyager1*

            Two things:
            1 I shouldn’t have written that.
            2 It didn’t come from ableism or ignorance.
            But yes surviving the “what comes after” of suicide attempt is not simple.

            But in the end I wrote that from somewhere not good, and I should have just put the phone down and not posted.

            1. Important Moi*

              Oh my. Now I’m wondering if what I said was misconstrued.

              A 72-hour involuntary hold plus the cost of an ambulance ride and/or deterrent should never be used as punishment for someone saying they felt suicidal.

              I meant what I said at face-value. Call the professionals if you don’t know what to do.

              1. voyager1*

                Nope I wrote it too. This whole letter was a bit triggering for me. I took it a way like others did. I should have sat on my hands on this one.

    5. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes, I’ve removed that thread and will add a note at the top of the page. Apologies for not getting to it faster — I had planned to moderate this post and then had an emergency come up that’s had me away from the computer.

      1. Yeah No*

        I really appreciate it Alison – you do a really great job keeping this a safe space for everyone. It’s important and I appreciate it. There are still some stray comments above along those lines, but that main thread is gone and that’s big.

  39. Harper the Other One*

    +1 – the right answer is always to call mental health services when someone threatens suicide, no matter what you believe the cause is.

  40. Teg*

    Hey I’m so sorry OP. I’ve never had that situation happen to me as a manager but it has happened to me with friends and family. As much as you rationally understand it’s not your fault, it’s very easy for guilt to creep in.
    But remember the fact that you care this deeply means you are a kind and compassionate person.
    And I can’t tell you what to bring up in therapy, but I do think it could be something to mention. Maybe it seems like a day to day minutia but it could also be part of a larger issue. Especially if you have a pattern of trying to carry others emotional burdens. And; at the end of the day, it still seems at least mildly traumatic.
    Best of luck to you and your employees.

  41. Retail4Life*

    First, I’m so thankful you and your workplace to the right steps to make sure your employees were safe. That’s amazing and you should be very proud of yourself for that. You sound like a compasssionate person and a caring boss.

    For those in the comments who seem doubtful or surprised that 2 people in a workplace could have suicidal ideation, it’s really not surprising at all. Suicide is, in general, on the rise. A big factor in suicidal ideation is loss of job or loss of purpose so the fear of losing a job could add to or make those ideas more intense. I think you’d be surprised at how many people have suicidal thoughts and probably have at least two people in your office who have struggled with those ideas whether you know it or not.

    For the letter writer, I would say that this is something that you could bring up with your therapist. It sounds like you normally work on bigger picture things, but it could be worth it to spend a session or two on practical tips on dealing with this anxiety you’re feeling. Therapists can be a big help with practical coping skills.

  42. Lemon Squeezy*

    Hey OP, I’m sorry you’re in this situation. It’s rough for anyone to be in, and it’s totally reasonable that you found it traumatic, especially as an empathetic person.

    I want to echo Allison in that setting clear boundaries and bars is a kindness. I know when I was in a rough patch and struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, having clear goalposts was something that helped keep me functional enough at work while letting me keep enough “battery power” to seek help and engage with therapy.

    And definitely talk to your therapist about this! This isn’t minutia–you spend a large part of your life at work ,and you had a traumatic experience twice there that’s affecting your confidence and relationship building. You deserve help too, OP.

    I don’t want to make assumptions, and this may be totally off base for your situation, but something I’ve noticed a lot with people who are empathetic is they tend to take on a lot of burden that doesn’t belong to them. While it is good to care about your employees, you are not responsible for their actions. You are NOT responsible for their actions.

  43. Please update the post*

    Alison, please put a CW at the top (even though it’s in the title) and some links to various services that assist with this topic.

  44. KatyO*

    The only advice I would give is to make sure you have another person present when feedback is delivered to these folks. And I only say that because you wouldn’t want the employee to do something rash and then their family try to sue you, as if it was your fault. Unfortunately, I’d feel the need to make sure I had a witness to any conversations so nobody could accuse me of “misconduct” down the road. Sadly, that’s the world we live in now and employers have to take more precautions to cover themselves.

  45. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    OP, you have a therapist. Even if you’re seeing her for a specific, unrelated issue, talk to her. If she can’t help you directly, she probably knows more about where you can get help than anyone on this board, because she knows local resources, and because “Hello, this is Dr. Nemo. I have a patient who urgently needs help with the thing you specialize in. Can you see her?” may get you an appointment a lot sooner than if you called the other office directly.

  46. Minocho*

    OP, I would like to give you the point of view of an employee who did not receive feedback. I don’t know why my manager did not coach me when I was failing to complete an important and oft repeated task correctly – maybe it was a similar struggle as yours, maybe it was for different reasons – but I want to show you how lack of coaching can affect an employee:

    I was a new hire, and this position required some on call duties. I was given a document outlining how to retrieve messages left to the on call service, and instructions on clearing those messages. Every time I was on call I monitored the phone and handled messages as they were received.

    About six months after I was hired, I overheard coworkers talking about how I wasn’t handling on call correctly, and they were upset with me and the poor job I was doing. I went to my manager and asked if I was handling on call duties correctly, and he informed me that I never had. I asked for further information on what I needed to do in order to improve, and received further instruction.

    I followed the correct procedure the rest of my tenure at the company, but the entire team and my manager’s poor impression of me from those six months was never corrected. I heard every year since then that I had a problem following instructions because of this issue only.

    Ever since then, I not only realized the value of constructive criticism and corrective coaching, but I actively sought it. I work very hard to suppress my natural defensiveness when I get criticized, so I can get my brain moving to absorb and examine the feedback I’m receiving. My goal is to be easy to give feedback to, in order to receive it early, when correction is easiest, and I’m most likely to avoid leaving a bad impression.

    As long as you follow Allison’s advice, you’re doing your best to help everyone improve, everyone succeed. To help yourself, really frame it to yourself as you’re preparing to coach someone that you’re doing it to help them. This is what they need to succeed, this is what they need to advance, and this is just another tool you’re offering them on their way up!

  47. AJK*

    Wow, this is a timely question for me, although I’m on the other side – kinda.
    I have had a few issues over the last few months and my performance at work has suffered, so last week my boss pulled me in and gave me a written warning. It was not a fun conversation, although she was 100% right and I knew it, it’s never fun to be in that situation.
    Here’s the thing, though – I have serious anxiety (two separate diagnosed anxiety disorders) and ADHD, and in the past ten years I’ve been fired from three different jobs, one after four years, one with absolutely zero warning, and one after five months of working harder than I ever have in my life to succeed. So even though I’ve been here at my current job for almost four years, I still have “work PTSD.” I was diagnosed with anxiety only after the last firing, I went to counseling and cried my way through all of my appointments telling my very nice counselor that I’d never work again and if I can’t work I can’t live and I may as well just not be alive anymore.
    So my conversation with my boss last Wednesday was doubly hard on me, but not because of anything she did or said. My anxiety isn’t her fault, and my past experiences aren’t her fault either. I’ve been suffering through a weeklong anxiety attack over here, along with the occasional “If I can’t work I can’t live and if I get fired a fourth time, that’s it, I don’t want to be alive anymore” thoughts, but I have a therapist and medication and I’ve been trying to channel my energy into making positive changes here at work, so I can keep my job that I love. In a way, I’m glad my boss and I had that talk, because 1) now I’m aware of what the issues are so I can fix them, instead of being blindsided, and 2) I think I needed that push to take action, instead of just hoping things will get better on their own. It’s been hard but in my saner moments I do really appreciate her letting me know and giving me another chance, rather than just giving up on me.
    From this side of things, LW, Allison’s advice is spot on – be kind, be constructive, and let your people know that you want them to succeed – let them know they’re not being set up for failure, and your feedback is a genuine effort to improve for everyone’s sake, and not you dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on the paper trail that will justify their firing when it happens. Be honest and let them know where they stand, and be clear about it – if their job is at risk, let them know, but also *give them a real chance to save it.* I think that last part is the most important. Don’t downplay your feedback for a long time and then just smack them all at once, being fired is hard enough without being made to feel like you’re stupid and incompetent and you just should have just *known* better all along. Don’t assume your employee can read your mind, some of us need things spelled out directly to know what people need from us. This is especially true for folks with ADHD or on the Autism spectrum like me, who have a hard time reading social cues. Don’t assume, use your words and some active listening to make sure you’re understood. And make sure you listen and understand where they’re coming from, too – especially in the early stages of coaching or counseling where still they have a chance to save their job, listen to what they are saying and don’t assume you’re right and they’re wrong. There may be issues with the team as a whole that are being reflected in their performance. Make it a collaborative effort, if you can. Try to listen through the inevitable defensiveness. Sometimes it won’t work out, but if it comes to that you’ll know (for the sake of your own conscience) that you did your absolute best to try to prevent this being the outcome. What happens beyond that, well – that’s not something you have control over.
    Also, one last thing – one of my managers had asked for feedback on my performance from my co-workers, and while firing me she had the paperwork with everyone’s comments in front of her, so she could read where I hadn’t met expectations. Well, I can read upside down, so I could read the things she didn’t actually say, and now comments like “she inserts herself into every conversation,” are stuck in my head forever. Be kind, make sure that sort of stuff is put away, in a file, where your employee can’t see it.
    I know that some of these things would have helped me so much, even if things ended the same way I wouldn’t have felt so destroyed by the experiences.

    1. Toes C*

      Yes, giving an employee a real chance to save the job is critically important. Managers in general need to learn to accept the possibility that they are wrong and to look deeper into an issue to find a solution.

  48. AnonAcademic*

    I don’t think anyone is accusing these employees of “faking” – they are clearly in extreme duress. Every comment I’ve read endorses getting them professional help. Some people have shared their experiences with people taking non-life-altering criticism or feedback and escalating rapidly to the level of suicidal ideation, and the reasons why that has happened. I don’t think their experiences shouldn’t be shared or are irrelevant just because they highlight that mental illness doesn’t make you a saint. Plenty of manipulative jerks are depressed, no one is saying all depressed people are manipulative jerks.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Some of the deleted comments did seriously question whether these employees were ‘faking’. It was irrelevant – their motives for expressing suicidal ideation does not change how the manager should react, both in the moment and ongoing.

      If it doesn’t add to the conversation, and causes some harm, the standard is we don’t say it here. People can take it to reddit.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Quite a few of the deleted comments in that thread accused the employees of faking it. (If you haven’t seen them, that’s because I’ve removed that thread.)

  49. GreenDoor*

    Gosh it’s hard enough and awkward enough delivering hard feedback without the added worry about serious mental health issues! I love Alison’s advice here. You would be doing these folks a disservice by softening the message or sweeping issues under the rug as a workaround. Just know that if someone is experience suicidal tendencies, there is no way their job is the one and only factor! If something tragic happens to these folks – regardless of any conversations you may/may not have with them – you cannot blame yourself here! Deliver the message you need to as kindly as possible. And continue to offer the EAP services, time off, changes in job duties or hours, or whatever else you can offer as a way of supporting them. If you do, you’re truly doing all you as a manager can do!

  50. Lily in NYC*

    This happened to my brother in law. He’s a professor and a student plagiarized her final paper (middle aged woman who was getting a masters). She was kicked out of the program and lost everything she paid. She threatened suicide (over email) and my BIL immediately called his dean, who called the police for a wellness check. They went to her home where she was cooking dinner for her family and was furious that they took her seriously. She said she thought her threat would make them reconsider kicking her out and yelled at the dean for embarrassing her in front of her family. But you always have to take these threats seriously, always! I am absolutely NOT implying that the people in the letter were bluffing; the letter simply reminded me of this situation. Random aside – My BIL has caught a few blatant cheaters over the years, and every single one was a middle aged woman. My assumption is that it’s because the kids in college are better at cheating, not that middle aged women are more likely to cheat.

  51. Retired and Happy Now*

    It can be very hard to know when job issues cover up mental health issues.

    Long ago, I left a job I loved with the best boss I ever had to stay home with my newly adopted infant. Hiring my replacement was in the works but the timing did not work out and I left before she was on board. I came in for a day (sans baby) to train her on tasks I knew best how to do and, with the boss’s knowledge, agreed to be available by phone (without pay) during some baby naps to guide her through some complicated tasks. The job had a lot of different duties and she turned out to be somewhat less experienced and confident than I expected. After 4 or so months of the replacement’s increasingly frequent calls, often asking for help on something we already went over thoroughly, I was mulling over letting the boss know about the situation. One afternoon, just as I was going out the door with baby already strapped in the car, my replacment called asking to go over something again. I told her that I could not talk then but she could call the next day.

    Early the next morning , the boss’s admin assistant phoned to let me know my replacement had killed herself. I was devastated and thought that my putting her off had something to do with her suicide. She left behind a husband and toddler! I did go to her wake and thought that her widower seemed unnaturally unperturbed by the death.

    While another replacement was sought, I worked one day a week to help out and was able to sit down with the boss to talk things over. My replacement’s faltering in the job had been noticed and the boss had asked her to try to get it together a couple of days prior to her death – nothing threatening but more what can we do to make it better. The woman’s sister came by to pick up her personal items, had a long conversation with the boss, and filld her in on a lot of background. The poor woman had a history of severe depression and had been hospitalized a year or so earlier for a couple of months. She had been upset lately that her toddler seemed more bonded with the babysitter than with her. As soon as he started the job with us with more pay than previously, her husbanded wanted to by a bigger, more impressive house. The marriage was shaky at best She was being treated for her illness and only two weeks earlier started taking this brand new miracle drug for depression -Prozac; a year later, the FDA put warnings on its label, noting that suicide risk increased in the first weeks of use.

    It took me years, despite knowing her mental health history, to understand the issues which drove her to take her life and leave her child were much bigger than my not dropping everything to talk to her that day.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “thought that her widower seemed unnaturally unperturbed by the death.”

      People react to grief in a number of different ways. Please do not characterize another person’s affect as “unnatural.” You cannot know what is going on inside their head, especially someone who you have never met before.

      1. Avasarala*

        You’re missing the forest for the trees. You don’t need to scan the post to find something you can critique about.

        The point is that Retired had only a few points of data–the phone call, the widower–and felt responsible/guilty about not being able to prevent this person’s death. But later they were able to understand that there was a history of mental illness and a host of other things going on in this person’s life that led to this choice. Like OP, these employees made that choice, but OP is not to blame just because of the few points of data they have (giving feedback); there is a whole iceberg of other things going on that OP can’t see and can’t help.

      2. LilySparrow*

        Retired accurately perceived that the husband was not shocked. That was confusing until the story came out.

        Grief and shock are different. When a loved one struggles with a long, serious illness you get ample opportunity to face the idea that it may take their life. And if someone else didn’t know they were sick, it can be unusual or disconcerting to see that family members saw it coming.

        Retired didn’t pass judgment on the husband. Noticing isn’t judging.

    2. Retired and Happy Now*

      For the folks below who commented about my assessment of the widower, here’s my context. Maybe it was the way he was dealing with grief or maybe he was medicated in some way to help him get through the funeral, but his behavior in the circumstances seemed odd to me –laughing and joking with the guys in front of his wife’s casket most of the time I was there, while her family was tearful, upset, and shooting looks like daggers to him. It toned down somewhat ( I think someone in his family had a quiet word with him) just before I left. I know that there can be laughter as well as tears at wakes and funerals but there was a whiff of disrespect in the air here.
      My colleagues said that it was the same at the funeral service. Maybe he was not shocked at her suicide but he gave no outward indication that her death was concerning to him. This did not seem like a person being stoic in the face of loss but like he did not care. (Again, it may have be due to substances.) In the conversation with the boss, her sister did not speak kindly about him (a few weeks later and he was still nonchalant about the loss) and said that he had not been supportive of his wife in her struggles.

  52. Pdm*

    Do you have access to occupational health? It’s imperative you get your employees assessed by OH if you do! They should be able to advise you on whether they are fit to do their role and fit to attend meetings. If they need medical help they can get it but you can’t be in a position where you can’t manage them long term…if that’s the case they aren’t fit to be in the job really.

  53. Carlie*

    Many counties have separate crisis response teams for people who are suicidal that have separate phone numbers from 911. This can avoid most of the issues involved with calling 911 (which are many), and the people who come are trained specifically for mental health evaluation. They will transport to a hospital if needed, will provide resources for counseling if not, etc. This can be a good option if you think the person is really in trouble but don’t want to call 911 for all of the reasons people have already listed. And there is one brand of training called QPR training that anyone can get to help them deal with suicidal people – it specifically trains you that you are NOT a responsible person to figure out what the person needs, but guides through a series of questions that can let you know which resources to point them at and how urgent the need is to do it now.

    I think “what would I do if someone is suicidal” is a question that a lot of people struggle with. If you write down a list of suicide prevention numbers, state and county services, and have a quick check sheet with questions that are somewhat diagnostic, that goes a long way towards you feeling confident in what you’re doing.

  54. C Pointer*

    This is a delicate situation. I would first ask you how and from who you heard that these people had mental health issues. I don’t know how your company is set up and if the we you refer to was someone in the HR department. All of this information means something in the context of giving feedback to a team member. If you received a report from someone reliable in HR, possibly there were more questions you could have asked to put the situations of the peoples in context. Presuming you received reliable information, people with “mental health” problems do need to be treated more carefully than others. Being truthful but gentle and cushioning information slightly–basically not being blunt but being honest–will go a long way toward making a situation easier to a person in distress.
    I have been a manager and a mental health professional.

  55. Toes C*

    I have a strong response to this because I have been in a workplace where someone committed suicide after a performance review. This man’s suicide deeply effected many of us that did not even know him. Many, many of us felt that if this man, a strong highly credentialed respected person, did not feel he could advance within this organization, then what chance do others have? There is no way that leadership will ever become aware of a link between this man’s suicide and other employees’ plans to leave on an intermediate to long-term basis or the permanent erosion we felt to our to company’s mission and its ability to achieve it. That absolutely tears me up. There are absolutely issues within the organization that contribute to pressure to get a promotion and to feel hopeless when you are not recognized or supported. I would strongly encourage OP to do whatever they can to get their organization’s leadership to take a serious look at company culture, the support workers receive, diversity issues (e.g. is stress and feeling a lack of support or isolation more intense for racial and sexual minorities, young staff, or single mothers?). I take issue with Alison’s advice a few counts. Two suicides shortly after a review very strongly suggests to me that your organization needs to address these issues in a manner that includes every employee, collects large amounts of qualitative feedback about the experience of working there, what needs to be improved, how can employees can be better supported. This must be anonymous and fully shared transparently in an all-organization meeting. I don’t think lack of honest feedback is an issue here. Adding a supportive supervision component sounds absolutely necessary. Employees need a path forward and recognition for their previous work. OP also sounds a bit isolated from support for her role coaching employees. If this a low-wage workplace in an with few employers, the organization may need to be creative and implement new programs such as a company food pantry, childcare solutions, a slush fund where employees can contribute small monetary amounts to have access to a fund when medical bills etc cannot be met.

    1. Auburn*

      For clarity, she didn’t indicate that there were two suicides but two employees who threatened suicide.

  56. Dave H*

    This is indeed a tough situation. As someone who was once in a similar position to the two employees mentioned in the letter, albeit long ago, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

    The most important thing to remember is that we have no way of knowing what someone else is going through in that moment. As long as OP was polite, professional, and reasonable when having these discussions, there’s nothing more she could have done. Depression and suicidal ideation are very complex, and while it may feel like something “caused” those dark thoughts, that generally isn’t the case.

    For example, everyone’s different, but in my case it was more of a “straw that broke the camel’s back” type of thing that sent me into despair. People who are in that position generally aren’t coping effectively, and there can be many different reasons for that. Everything from mental illness to relationship problems, addiction, death of a loved one, financial issues, etc. Generally speaking, it’s more a sum of all the stressors that is overwhelming rather than any particular one.

    OP, I’m glad you’re seeing a therapist and you sound like a reasonable, kind manager who is sensitive to the well-being of your employees. I’m so sorry you’re going through this and I wish you and your employees the best.

  57. Anon with Limited Knowledge of MHI*

    Unfortunately, calling 911 and/or police on someone who is distraught can result in their death by shooting. I wish it weren’t the case, but you can find many examples.

  58. anon for this*

    I work in a field with an extremely high suicide rate, plus an overabundance of dysfunctional people. If an employee threatens suicide please call 911 immediately. This does several things – 1. if help is needed they get it, 2. if it is manipulative behavior (which IME is the case most of the time) they don’t pull that again, 3. suicide/homicide in the workplace is a real risk that I am unwilling to take.

    FWIW, my ex-office manager had one of my employees threaten suicide after a review. She didn’t tell me. His performance and manipulative behavior continued unabated so I fired him when he yelled at me one day. He then showed up AT MY HOUSE at 930 at night. It would have been much better if he had gotten help at the first threat.

  59. SRMJ*

    Something like this happening twice, particularly ‘to’ a very empathetic person, can be traumatizing. You thought people might end their lives and while you know it’s not because of the feedback, fearing the feedback might have been the catalyst is massive enough to potentially traumatize you: you witnessed threats to two people’s lives. That’s serious. I’m also very empathetic and I could easily see feeling sick about it, even if I truly knew and believed it wasn’t because of me. Definitely talk to your therapist about it. That’s a lot to deal with and it probably isn’t occurring too much to people to think about the potential impact this has had on you.

  60. Perpal*

    Sorry you’ve been through all that OP! I think perhaps, one way of looking at it is that this happened, and it sounds like you handled it correctly, and folks are ok? So hopefully it never happens again, but if it does, you know what to do and you’ve done it well!
    I completely agree with allison that while it’s understandable why you are nervous, you have to keep doing your job and giving feedback! What happened wasn’t because you did something wrong, but because of the issues these employees were facing. I’m not a lawyer but I can’t imagine “don’t ever criticize or give feedback” etc are reasonable accommodations for depression or anything else. Not sure if there should be some sort of discussion of how to deliver feedback with employees mental health providers as part of an accommodation plan to an employee who has declared a mental health need (it feels both like overstepping as well as perhaps a reasonable accommodation; quite frankly I’m not sure what workplace accommodations there usually are for depression beyond a more flexible schedule?)
    I don’t know if it’s helpful, but as some alluded to above, if you read dating advice columns “my partner might [fair badly] if I don’t continue to be with them, and I care about that, but I really don’t want to be with them anymore” is a not uncommon theme. The advice is; break up with them. You are not responsible for their life or actions or choices, you can’t be essentially held hostage by threat of violence (in the case of threatened self-harm or suicide).
    Same thing applies to managing; you have to keep managing. Your obligation is to be an effective manger and a generally kind and decent person, but not managing accomplishes neither. If someone reacts badly even though you’ve done the best you can and by all usual metrics a good job, that is on them.
    Good luck op! TL;DR: what happened wasn’t your fault, you did the right things when bad things did happen, and keep on doing what you need to do!

  61. employee-with-ptsd*

    Two years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD, a fact I’ve quietly disclosed in two work places to my direct supervisors.

    At the first, I felt like my boss’ knowledge of my mental health issues made them so much less likely to manage me. They wouldn’t give me proper feedback, they would hedge around criticism which I probably needed to be good at my job, they wouldn’t have proper conversations about workplace culture, they never gave me any performance reviews and then when my 12 month contract was coming to an end they offered me a *three month* contract and said they couldn’t offer any longer because I hadn’t had a performance review – which I had been asking for! I felt like they were so cautious of my mental health that they were completely abdicating their responsibilities as an employer.

    At my current job, my boss is an excellent manager. I get regular feed back on my work and guidance on how to improve. We talk openly about when things didn’t go to plan (the nature of the work is a bit unpredictable, so everyone can do their best job and still not have the hoped for outcome), and we forward plan together. I know multiple other people in the work place have specific mental health issues (all disclosed by the individual – I feel totally safe about my information), and there is zero stigma about therapy. When my work isn’t up to expectations I am critiqued and I am expected to improve. I love it there.

    One day last week I made a mistake (relatively easily fixed, but a mistake all the same), and so got critical feedback, and I found it incredibly hard and stressful for whatever reason, and it sent me into a panic. And so I booked an extra session of therapy; and then I sat down with myself and thought about how I was going to get my head back into work mode. And I think my work has been better this week. (And I will never make that mistake again!)

    All this to say, OP: I am sorry what you are dealing with, and this must be very difficult. But what has supported me the most in my workplace in dealing with mental health has been a boss who is tough and fair and approachable, with high standards for herself and her team. It has been a boss who is open and honest so I know where I stand – and I’m not second guessing myself, or not receiving critical information about my performance. The best thing my manager can do during all of this is be my manager.

  62. Chelsea*

    Having just left a very toxic situation with a boss who was renowned in our department for giving horrible critical feedback, causing constant discouragement and demoralization, while she still somehow believed that she was a super nice and well-liked person…I have to tell the OP, maybe the problem IS your feedback. This opinion, that maybe OP is in fact partially responsible, seems to be very unpopular in this comment thread, but I have to say it based on my own experiences. Having TWO employees threaten suicide after receiving feedback from you sure makes it seem like you aren’t delivering it kindly OR constructively. Maybe you should look inward and make sure that you aren’t treating people cruelly when you don’t mean to.

  63. Luna*

    I really don’t like it when people say such things because it feels like an attempt at emotional blackmailing. I can understand having severe depression — I have it myself, and have been in jobs where (while unmedicated) I had to resist the urge to jump off the balcony or throw myself in front of a car. It’s not fun, at all. — but feedback *is* part of any job, and your mental health should not be used as a reason to never receive any. If a person’s mental health is so bad that any type of feedback (positive or negative) could serve as a catalyst to commit suicide, they need medical help first and foremost. And maybe a change in job because why remain with a job that makes you so miserable? I was let go from a job that was making me miserable before I could quit, which I guess was the one upside to the entire ordeal.

  64. JD*

    There is one piece of advice that I think is missing is from this conversation. If you suspect or know that someone you work with is depressed (especially someone who reports to you), educate yourself on depression. I am constantly given feedback at work, which I’m sure my boss thinks is “kind,” but telling me I demotivate others because my mood is unstable is NOT constructive. I’m doing my best with the broken brain I have.

    Learning about this illness (or any other) is probably not really your responsibility, but it just makes you a decent person.

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