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February 8, 2022
That One Question That Could Save a Life!
Written by: Norman Winegar
Suicide Prevention in the Workplace
Suicide is a topic that is widely misunderstood and stigmatized. However, as the subject of suicide is difficult, painful, and often met with shame, it has quickly become a public health crisis.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, taking the lives of 47,511 in a recent year. It is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, among young people and does not discriminate against any age or demographic groupings of people.
Contrary to the misconception that suicide is caused by a single event; it involves the complex and dynamic interaction of biological, psychological, and social/environmental factors. The unique interaction of these factors in one’s life, together with the ease of access to lethal means, is the foundation for suicide.
Warning Signs of Suicide in the Workplace
With the staggering statistics on suicide, how can managers, supervisors, and human resource professionals play a part in detecting suicide risks in the workplace? Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
- Neglect of work, appearance, or personal hygiene.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
- A change in personality marked by withdrawing or feeling isolated or displaying extreme mood swings
- Increasing the use of alcohol or other drugs.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Takes unnecessary risks.
- Sharing suicidal ideas with others.
- Downplay their capabilities or worth and focus on failures and disappointments.
- Has recently experienced a serious personal loss a series of losses.
- Mentioning to other about strong feelings of guilt and shame
If you notice these changes in behavior, ask if the employee will speak with you in a safe, private location at your workplace. Despite all the messages our society gives us about autonomy, humans are social creatures that crave connectedness. The single act of expressing care and concern by simply asking if the employee is okay is one of the most powerful tools that managers and supervisors can use to help a person in such situations. Tell the employee what you or others have noticed about their behavior in a non-judgmental way and allow the person to talk about their situation. Listen and don’t feel you have to have “the answer” or that you need to be a therapist. Sensitively, ask how they are feeling, how they are coping, and if they have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming themselves. (No, research shows that this will not put the idea in their minds.) As appropriate, offer to assist the person in getting help. If you believe the person is imminently suicidal, call 911 so that first responders can assess and treat the individual to keep them safe. Remember that suicidal thoughts and plans are usually transitory- that the passage of time reduces their risk tremendously, and your conversation creates temporal distance.??
While aware of how to help a suicidal person, you can also partner with your EAP or community organizations to create a supportive and safe workplace culture. A culture that is informed about suicide, preventing it, and communicating asking for help should be normal and accepted. Because suicide is not just a terrible personal tragedy, it’s also a business issue.
Trained crisis counselors are available 24 hours in English and Spanish.