In June, less than a week after the shocking suicides of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins felt compelled to address the matter head-on with his employees.
From Orlando, where Robbins was attending a conference called Cisco Live, he sent a company-wide email.
"In light of recent tragedies, I wanted to step away from Cisco Live for a moment to talk about the importance of mental health," he wrote. "Unfortunately, we all know friends, family, and coworkers battling mental health conditions, or maybe you're going through your own struggles."
Robbins, who took over the CEO role in 2015, encouraged employees to "talk openly and extend compassion," asked that they "have each other's backs," and told them that professional support is available. Robbins had no idea what was about to happen. More than 100 employees responded to his note within days, some sharing in painful detail their own personal struggles.
"I didn't understand the magnitude of the problem," Robbins told CNBC in an interview. "The volume of responses we got back led us to be more active."
Roughly one in five adults in the U.S. per year suffer from mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The costs to treat depression, stress, anxiety and other ailments exceeds $200 billion a year, and for many employers the number of sick days and lost productivity associated with mental health represent one of their biggest expenses.