How to Spot Suicidal Behaviors in the Workplace

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — an attempt to destigmatize suicide, educate the public about the importance of mental health care, and provide prevention resources to those who need it.

For Robert Bogue, the occasion arrives close to home.

His son Alex had what seemed like an enviable life — a significant other, a new home, a supportive work environment, and a connected family. However, he also struggled with psychological trauma caused by the death of a colleague close to him.

In August 2021, Alex ended his life at the age of 28.

“In a moment he thought the only way out of his [psychological] Pain should end his life,” said Bogue, who is president of Thor Projects, an Indiana-based technology company.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 46,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2020. Another 12.2 million adults were seriously considering suicide, 3.2 million were planning a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million attempted suicide.

Bogue said the impact of the workplace on suicide has yet to be fully researched, but organizations can play an important role in supporting their employees’ mental health and directing them to life-saving resources.

Signs of suicidal ideation in the workplace

According to Cigna Health Insurance, employees struggling with suicidal thoughts may:

  • Make direct statements about ending their lives.
  • Make indirect comments like, “What is the meaning of life?” “Life is meaningless.” “Nobody would miss me if I was gone.”
  • Talk or write about death or dying, including on social media posts.
  • Give away your possessions.
  • Find out the details of the life insurance policy, especially regarding the cause of death.
  • Show an interest in end-of-life issues such as
  • Show noticeable changes in behavior or mood, such as B. an uncharacteristically sad, calm, or withdrawn demeanor.
  • Neglect work, appearance or hygiene.
  • Express hopelessness or helplessness.

“If you’re concerned that someone is considering suicide, ask them directly and be open with them about it,” Bogue added. “Research supports that because of the conversation, you won’t make them [but instead] You’ll bond with them, and that’s a strong preventive factor.”

What about remote workers?

A 2020 Gallup survey found that employees who work remotely full-time reported higher levels of burnout than part-time remote workers and those who don’t work from home. In some cases, burnout can lead to depression. Severe or persistent depression can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Myra Altman, vice president of clinical strategy and research at mental health platform Modern Health, said managers can support remote workers even if they don’t meet in person.

“For managers to notice signs of depression in remote workers, they need to actively listen to their employees when they mention they’re overworked, unfulfilled, stressed, or struggling with challenges in their personal lives,” she said. “It starts with empathy and mindfulness.”

Altman said managers should be on the lookout for changes in their remote workers’ behavior or emotions, such as:

“These are good opportunities to start a conversation and find out how someone is doing,” she explained. “This is always made easier when the manager has already created a culture of psychological safety where people feel safe and comfortable raising concerns and being themselves.”

Help is available: dial 9-8-8

Companies can support the mental health of their employees by:

  • Creating a welcoming, inclusive work environment.
  • Reduce employee workload as needed.
  • Offer additional “mental health days”.
  • Referral of workers to employee assistance programs.
  • Ensure employees have access to crisis contact information.

dr Les Kertay, senior vice president of behavioral health services at Axiom Medical in Chattanooga, Tennessee, said it could be beneficial if employees were trained in mental health first aid or other social support training.

“Perhaps most importantly, managers need to be trained to recognize need and respond compassionately when appropriate,” Kertay said. “I would definitely recommend hiring a knowledgeable professional or organization to help build a program that makes sense for the specific workplace, rather than taking a general approach or offering piecemeal mental health/meditation apps or classes .”

If employers have a strong impression that an employee is considering suicide, dial 9-8-8.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is the new national suicide prevention network that includes more than 160 crisis centers accessible through a 24-hour toll-free hotline. The Lifeline provides free and confidential support for those in need, as well as crisis resources and best practices for professionals.

“Find a private seat, dial 9-8-8 and stick with it [the distressed individual] until the crisis advisor on the other end of the line or the employee suggests you should leave,” Bogue said. [which] means finding the right people to support them — not just giving them the number.”

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