This article is a part of a continuing series focusing on mental health and the impact of mental illness on employees and the workplace.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Each year, more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24. Many times, friends and families affected by a suicide are left in the dark; often feelings of shame and stigma prevent them from talking openly. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, uses this month as a time to reach out to those affected by suicide, to raise awareness, and connect individuals with treatment services. HR Florida is proud to partner with NAMI Florida on a campaign to end the stigma associated with mental illness – #StigmaFreeFlorida.
Is your workplace prepared to respond in the event of a suicide?
The suicide of a vendor, client, employee or family member of an employee can cause trauma and grieving which impact workplace functioning and productivity. Being adequately prepared to respond to this type of situation as well as to cope with the aftermath of a suicide can help an organization address any potential problems, help employees cope with grief, and bring the workplace back to normal functioning.
Potential warning signs
Suicide occurs across all age, economic, social, and ethnic boundaries. All of us have stress, family disruptions, grief, medical concerns or trauma at one time or another which can become contributing factors in a suicide. For some of us, those stressors become so unbearable that they feel they are not able to survive the pain.
An employee exhibiting the following signs, may be at risk for suicide:
- Acting sad or withdrawn, distracted at work and not engaged in their usual work performance
- Making statements such as “you won’t have to worry about me”
- Giving away personal belongings; talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
- No reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
- Withdrawing from friends, family, or society
Key Workplace Strategies
There are some key workplace strategies that your company can implement to help employees who may have a mental illness causing suicidal thoughts or employees who are coping with the loss of a family member, friend, or co-worker due to suicide.
- Visible and vocal leaders who emphasize the importance of mental health and actively work to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
- Policies and procedures that promote a mentally healthy workforce, including compassionate reintegration policies, life-skills promotion, and a culture of belonging.
- Access to mental health services such as an employee assistance program (EAP), with few obstacles to obtaining aid.
- Utilize a service such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Interactive Screening Program (ISP) in which employees can anonymously take a brief questionnaire and receive a personalized response from an EAP counselor.
- Suicide prevention gatekeeper training (including front-line staff) to help identify warning signs and risk factors and confidently approach and refer a high risk person to appropriate resources.
- Gatekeeper training can teach individuals warning signs and common causes of suicide, as well as help individuals learn how to appropriately and sensitively question, persuade, and refer someone who may be suicidal to resources.
- Means restrictions that place barriers between those of high risk for suicide and the means to accomplish suicide (roof access, chemical and weapon access, etc).
- Crisis response protocol and long-term “postvention” to stabilize a grieving workforce while honoring bereavement needs.
- This could include on-site counselors, time to attend counseling sessions, and flexible work schedules.
- Guides such as “A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace” (from the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention) can be a beneficial tool.
All too often today, HR professionals are too bogged down in the administration and compliance pieces of human resources to focus on the well-being of employees and how it impacts the workplace. Luckily, wellness programs, mindfulness programs, and other initiatives focused on employee well-being are becoming more commonplace. Helping our employees through a very difficult time in their lives is not only a good thing to do, it is the right thing to do. Help bring awareness to mental health issues and work to change the stigma associated with mental illness; pledge that your organization will be Stigma Free. Learn more at www.namiflorida.org
Eve Sweeting is the Diversity Director for HR Florida. With over a decade of HR experience in private, public, and non-profit entities, Eve currently serves as an HR Analyst with a focus in performance management and workforce metrics. She believes that HR’s ability to impact the work environment for the better can benefit both workers and organizations.