Running your coworking community is exhilarating and fun, most of the time. But there are times when it is a very difficult job, especially during times of crisis and loss. Holding space for collective grief can be exhausting and many of us did not come to this work realizing the depth of impact it would have on our lives. This post is focused on providing tools and resources to those leading communities and in the position of caregiving.
September is national Suicide prevention month. This topic is one that causes deep vulnerability and one that feels very hard to discuss for many people, yet it’s imperative that we find the courage to keep an ongoing, open conversation about it. I have been personally touched by suicide several times in my life, most recently requiring me to be available to support close family members through their own crises of suicidiation. Because of my experience, I feel inspired to write about this this week.
Suicide is a complex and painful issue confronting our society in higher and higher numbers. The World Health Organization estimates that almost 800,000 people die by suicide globally each year. While suicide is often seen as a mental health issue, it is, in fact, a very complex problem with multiple variants and causes, including genetics, mental health, socio-economic status, physical health, and cultural identity.
As someone who has been challenged with depressive energy for most of my life, and through my experience of navigating loss and caregiving, I have had my perspective on this painful issue widen and deepen over the years. Last year I decided to get real and shared my perspective on suicide as reflected through my own journey.
There are many resources available to those who are experiencing a crisis of suicidiation and thankfully, these resources are shared widely.
But what about those who suffer a loss of a loved one or those who are in the intensive moments of actively supporting a loved one through a crisis of suicidiation? There is little focus on providing support for the people who are in positions of caring for or helping loved ones through such a crisis.
And those of us in the coworking world are increasingly in a unique position of being the emotional space holders for our communities and are sometimes the ones needing to hold the community together after the tragedy of loss of a member to suicide.
Laura Shook Guzman, who has spent 20 years as a practicing psychotherapist and 11 years leading a coworking community, recommends the following actions for space managers to take in order to receive the support and guidance needed to navigate a crisis within their communities.
- Put your oxygen mask on first. As a coworking founder or manager, you provide a ton of emotional labor for your community and if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you will have very little capacity to take care of others. Prioritize your own self-care and find ways to nurture your own well-being, such as taking nature walks, practicing 5-minute mindful moments and taking deep belly breaths throughout the day.
- Find a tribe of your own. You are a community builder and a space holder for many, however, it is essential that you have a community of your own, ideally a community of your peers from which you can seek refuge and support. In our unique industry, it can be especially supportive to find your coworking people, aka the other leaders and founders of coworking spaces. Reach out to your community for support, two such options for finding people who have been through and understand the unique role you play are the online groups, Women Who Cowork, and the global Coworking Forum. Ask for help in navigating the emotional challenges that arise when you’re navigating a crisis within your community, many of us in the coworking world have been through this and we are here to support you.
- Know the warning signs. Educate yourself about the risk factors and warning signs that a person who is struggling with suicidal thoughts might exhibit. There is no single cause of suicide, yet being aware of the signs can help you take steps to support someone who is struggling in your community.
- Break the silence and talk about it. Research shows that talking about suicide can be a powerful way to prevent suicide. Starting the conversation, models understanding and openness and is more likely to invite more candid conversations.
- Model and encourage vulnerability. By creating a culture that models transparency and vulnerability, you are inviting your members to step into deeper connection with one another. By deepening the connections, the community becomes more resilient. And, in times of crisis, your community can step up to help one another move through and process, collectively. To make this value more visible, consider investing in signage designed to prompt these reflections and conversations.
- Get training. You are not a mental health professional and you do not need to assume that role in your community, however, there are steps you can take to educate yourself and your team about how to respond to a crisis in your community. LivingWorks is an organization that provides suicide prevention and intervention programs, online and in-person, to communities, workplaces, schools and organizations. And Mental Health First Aid is a program that trains individuals and organizations to understand and respond to people in distress.
- Provide resources for professional help. Have a list of resources that can be easily shared such as the Crisis Text Line, National Suicide Prevention Hotline and International Association for Suicide Prevention.
- Seek your own professional support. Especially in times of crisis, when navigating a loss in the community or a personal one, it is important that you find the mental health support you need. Seeking a psychotherapist, psychologist, grief and bereavement specialist, crisis counselor or other mental health professionals to guide and support you is essential to remaining a connected and effective leader of your community. In a recent podcast episode, Laura shares how to find a therapist to support you, not only in life, but on your journey as a community leader and entrepreneur.
Do you have other tips to share? Comment below if you have experienced a crisis in your community. What do you wish you knew beforehand? What was most helpful?
Thanks so much for writing and sharing – it’s not something you realise you can be impacted by coming into this type of role, but working with people who can often be sole traders means they may not have any other support, and there’s unlikely to be an HR department in many coworking spaces! I’ve just decided to do a bit of study around counselling, to assist me with the process of helping others without becoming too involved, or neglecting myself in the process. Reading articles like this makes me realise I’m doing the right thing – as space owners & operators, we need to try to find ways to support our members.
Wow, it’s great that you are choosing to educate yourself on counseling. And yes to taking care of yourself! You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t.