September is National Suicide Prevention Month—an opportunity for employers to learn how they can help workers at risk for taking their own lives.
Suicides related to workplace issues are rising. In 2013—the most recent available statistics—270 U.S. employees completed suicide at work—a 12% increase over 2012.
Workplace stress is believed to be the leading factor in suicides when employees have little or no control over high job demands. According to a StressPulse survey, excessive workload (46%) and interpersonal issues (28%) are the leading sources of workplace stress.
Most employees who attempt or die by suicide have mental health or psychological disorders that haven’t been addressed. When a disgruntled employee loses a promotion or gets fired, it can become a final straw on top of pre-existing stressors and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or drug use.
Male employees are 15 times more likely than females to commit suicide because of workplace issues. One study by the Institute of Health examined the chronic impact of work on suicide. It found that a sample of 63 employees who completed suicide had depression and anxiety, excessive debt, higher impulsivity and poorer social support, compared to a control group of 112 non-suicidal employees.
Prevention & Coping
It is estimated that eight out of ten people who consider suicide show signs of their intentions to harm themselves. If you or someone you know are considering suicide, it’s important to know what to look for and what to do.
1. Know the signs. Some of the signs of suicide ideation are isolation at work, poor job performance, sudden change in an employee’s personality, previous suicide attempts or threats such as, “This job would be better without me in it” or “I might not be around to put my name in the hat for that promotion.” Expressions of hopelessness, depression, burnout, chronic absenteeism and lack of interest in the job are also symptoms.
2. Provide training. If you’re an employer, make sure HR personnel are well educated about suicide and suicidal ideation. If you are an employee in an organization where suicide hasn’t been acknowledged or discussed, speak to someone in authority who can take steps to provide training for all employees. With appropriate training, you know how to identify and intervene to make sure a vulnerable employee gets professional help before becoming suicidal. Otherwise, social isolation can cut suicidal employees off from help when they most need it. Training teaches you that any form of stigma–judgment, name-calling or shame–must be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, it could push a suicidal employee over the edge.
3. Take threats or attempts seriously. No suicide threat or attempt should be dismissed or taken lightly. Statistics show that employees who talk about or threaten suicide or call crisis centres are 30 times more likely than average to kill themselves. And 40% of people who complete suicide had made a previous attempt. Threats or attempts are cries for help that something is gravely wrong in an employee’s life, and you should take them seriously and deal with them immediately. It’s important to be supportive, compassionate and understanding in cases where a co-worker is suicidal. If you’re concerned that a co-worker is suicidal, trust your instincts. Reach out to the person, share your concerns and be willing to listen. Find out if the person has a concrete plan to harm. If so, don’t leave the person alone or keep it a secret. Never attempt to counsel a suicidal person unless you’re trained. Inform someone in authority immediately and insist the employee get professional help even if he or she resists.
4. Arrange help for co-workers. When an employee completes suicide, it affects everyone in that person’s life: family, friends and co-workers. It’s incumbent on management to provide employees an opportunity to process the trauma, ask questions and receive coping tips on how to emotionally self-care during this disturbing time.
5. Reach out for support. If you or someone you know might be contemplating suicide, contact a local hospital, mental health facility or EAP Assist.