Alice Jordan-Miles keeps a pair of blue shoes in her office to remind her why she comes to work every day.
“Those blue pumps were sent to me years ago from a woman who credits me with saving her life,” says Jordan-Miles, director of the Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne.
It all stemmed from an incident in which Jordan-Miles was standing in a long line at a cosmetics counter at Glenbrook Square. Making small talk with the woman next to her in line, Jordan-Miles quickly realized the woman was in a state of crisis.
“She told me her mother had died and her father, a police official, had been murdered. She had two sisters – they were triplets. One of the sisters had recently passed away. Soon after, she realized her only remaining sister was having an affair with her husband. I knew she was in a very dark place when I complimented her unique and colorful blue pumps. It was a brand that I recognized as being very expensive. She took them off and told me I could have them. That’s a sure sign that someone is at a point where they will take their own life – they start giving away their things.”
Jordan-Miles suggested to the woman they step out of the line and go outside the store where they could talk in private. The woman agreed to let Jordan-Miles call a crisis intervention police officer to come and take her to a place where she could get help.
“I didn’t even know her name, but one year later, I received a package in the mail and it was the shoes along with a note from the woman who said, ‘I just want you to know the miles I’ve walked in these shoes had never been so valid until I met you.’ Those shoes remind me that my job is important and it reminds me how important it is to recognize mental illness.”
Through Purdue University, Jordan-Miles travels all over the state of Indiana instructing people on how to identify mental illness and how to help those who need help. Last year, she trained more than 3,500 people. She is on a mission to create awareness about mental health in the workplace.
“If you think about it, most of us spend more time around our co-workers than we do our own families,” says Jordan-Miles. “We are at a point in the new ‘normal’ where mental illness is plaguing all people. It’s a real illness. It’s actually physical and it can take over your life and overwhelm you.”
She’s pleased to know that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or AFSP, and the American Association of Suicidology, or AAS, have partnered and put together national guidelines for workplace suicide prevention.
“I’m really hoping we can make a dent in changing the culture in how workplaces view and treat employees with mental health. And frankly, I believe it has to start from the top in encouraging and promoting help-seeking behaviors. It has to go beyond only offering an Employee Assistance Program.”
Jordan-Miles credits work being done in this area by Clinton Faupel, the co-founder and executive director of RemedyLIVE, a nonprofit organization in Fort Wayne that offers a variety of mental health programs and support to both schools and businesses, including an interactive WIRED Experience for local organizations.
“When it comes to mental health in the workplace, my hope is that the general business community will know that this is a free product,” says Faupel. “We just want to make sure that mental health is not neglected, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic when a lot of people are suffering with anxiety and social isolation issues.”
Faupel says he’s very grateful for the support RemedyLIVE has already received from well-known businesses in the area and credits catalytic business leaders like Sweetwater Sound CEO Chuck Surack for participating in a podcast to get the word out about mental health and to crush the stigma associated with it.
In many ways, it’s ironic that those blue shoes are a motivating factor for Jordan-Miles, because she has literally walked what she talks.
“I suffer from depression each and every day. I attempted suicide when I was 16 – not because I wanted to die, but because I had no hope. When I do presentations, I will ask the audience, ‘When you see someone who is depressed, what do they look like?’ They will say things like, ‘they’re homeless;’ ‘they’re poor;’ ‘they’re uneducated.’ Then I tell them I have depression and attempted suicide and they’re shocked.”
Suicide rates among Indiana residents have increased by almost 30-percent in the last ten years. Jordan-Miles says we can’t ignore the significance of the statistics. Since May is Mental Health month, she wants to normalize the topic of mental health and encourage one another to start talking about mental wellness around the water cooler as we do about going to the gym.
“I use the following scenario to emphasize the importance of recognizing mental health: a human being can go about 70 days without food; about 40 days without water and about 3 minutes without air… but it only takes 1 second to have no hope.”
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
National Crisis Text Line
text IN to 741741
Local resource: lookupindiana.org
text HELP to 494949