Suicide has been on the minds of many following the tragic loss of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The CDC's report on suicide rates rising across the country noted a 25% jump in suicide-related deaths in the U.S. This growing public health crisis impacts many people in the prime of their working years. For those close to someone lost to suicide - whether a family member, friend or co-worker - the pain and grief last a long time and impact nearly every aspect of their lives.
Is your workplace prepared to support employees who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts and to assist those who may be grieving the loss of a loved one, friend or co-worker? Do employees in your organization feel like the culture and climate are safe to come forward and seek help when needed should their mental health deteriorate and put them at risk for suicide? Many believe that raising the issue of suicide could plant the seed in a person’s mind, however asking if someone is suicidal is more likely to result in the person sharing what they are experiencing and getting help.
Employers can help address the growing suicide rate in our nation and respond appropriately when tragedies happen. Here are 5 ways employers can make a positive difference:
- Know suicide and mental health warning signs: Educate managers and employees about the warning signs shown by a person at risk of suicide. This may involve a manager noticing that a highly productive and engaged employee suddenly starts slipping in performance and is far less engaged. Or a co-worker may notice an individual withdrawing from the team, missing lots of work or in strained relationships. Employers are in a key position to raise awareness about what to do when this happens. It is also helpful for employers to share the early warning signs of common mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. Knowing warning signs of suicide and mental health conditions can lead to offering much needed support.
- Break the Silence: Share your commitment to leading a mentally healthy workplace by creating a culture in which depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are talked about as openly as hypertension, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Employees in a safe and supportive environment are more likely to seek help when needed for mental health conditions and early action leads to the best results.
- Engage employees: Create opportunities for employees to get to know each other better by sharing interests and life experiences. Social isolation and lack of social support are associated with depression, which in turn raises the risk of suicide. High-quality relationships and social connections at work keep employees engaged and feeling valued so should be an organization-wide priority. It may also help employees feel more comfortable reaching out for help or asking a co-worker if he or she is ok.
- Include mental health in all health and wellness programs: Find ways to communicate your organization’s commitment to employee mental health and overall well-being. Use programs and resources that convey the importance of mental and emotional health. Consider offering Right Direction, an easy to use, customizable turnkey initiative to raise awareness about depression, reduce stigma, and motivate employees to seek help when needed. Or offer ICU, a resource developed by DuPont and now available to all employers to reduce stigma and foster a workplace culture that supports emotional health and well-being.
- Coordinate mental health and suicide prevention activity with EAP Vendors: Notify external and internal EAP personnel when you introduce mental health and suicide prevention information and programs into the workplace. Inquire about what resources they have available to support an employee who may be impacted by suicide. Ideally, raising the visibility of these issues will increase the number of EAP self-referrals.
Employers are well positioned to make a positive difference in the lives of their employees by creating a mentally healthy workplace environment. This in turn holds real promise in helping to reduce the rising suicide rate in our nation.
- Breaking the Silence in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers on Responding to Suicide in the Workplace (.pdf): accessed from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center website.
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health: Suicide Response
- A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: accessed from the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention website.
Important Information to Share with Employees
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: call 1-800-273-8255
- Crisis Text Line: text 741741