workplace-suicide-preventionTalking about suicide is tough.  It’s a difficult subject that makes people avert their eyes and lower their voices.  But the truth is, if we want to stop suicide and make our communities and companies safer, we have to talk about it:  Out load and up close.   Let’s start with just how serious an issue it is.

  • At any given time, approximately 5% of your workforce is considering suicide.
  • In 2010 over 38,350 people killed themselves in the United States.  This is a tragedy that leaves families and loved ones reeling with disbelief and confusion.  But the loss doesn’t stop there.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 85 percent of all suicides occur among the nation’s workforce, Americans ages 25-65.
  • The impact of suicide on a corporate family consisting of 100,000 employees, with an average of 4 blood relatives per employee, includes:
    • The loss of one employee or family member to suicide every 7 days.
    • Three suicide attempts every day since there are about 25 nonfatal suicide attempts for every reported suicide. (This is a very conservative estimate.)
    •  Some of these attempts result in a significant medical injury and disability, which directly impacts health care costs, particularly for self-insured companies.
      • Paul Quinnett, PhD, Director, the QPR Institute, Spokane, Wash
  • The annual cost of workforce-related suicides has been calculated by Research America to be approximately $13 billion in 2005 dollars.  Research America fact sheet 21

As for veterans, well, although the VA has only been tracking war veteran suicides since 2008, it’s clear that veteran suicide rates appear significantly higher than those among comparable civilians.  On average 22 Veterans die from suicide each day.  That is not a misprint – each day. If your company hires Veterans, a suicide prevention program is essential for your workplace.

“So, what can we do?”   You’re wondering.   “This is too big for us”.  The good news is that there are proven techniques that can help connect people at risk of suicide with help and support.  No company is too small or too big to implement some strategic, uniform suicide prevention efforts that involve the entire company from parking lot attendant to senior management.

Step 1.  Talk about it.

Bring suicide prevention and veterans suicide prevention out of the darkness and into the boardroom, break room, or cubicle cluster.  Create a culture where discussing suicide prevention, resources and warning signs is part of your corporate culture.  TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE WILL NOT CREATE CONTAGION.  Talking about suicide saves lives.  Note:  Ensure that any media campaign follows media safety guidelines as provided by the American Association of Suicidology.

 Step 2.  Educate your workforce. 

There are some very good training programs out there that will help to educate your workforce about the warning signs for suicide.  But, a good program also teaches skills.  That is, what to do when you see those warning signs.  Everyone needs to learn a few awareness skills, such as:

a)     How to ask the question – “Are you thinking of Suicide?”  “Are you so sad you want to kill yourself?”
b)    What to do and where to go for help. – National Suicide Prevention numbers, local crisis numbers and resources for Veterans Suicide Prevention; and
c)     Corporate policies and procedures for helping a person at risk of suicide and/or EAP options.

Some employees like direct managers and HR personnel need to know more, like how to do an intervention and work directly with a person at risk of suicide to create a plan for safety.  Many companies use a tiered approach to skill building based on a person’s position within the workforce.

Step 3.  Create a suicide safer corporate culture. 

Educating people about suicide prevention and empowering them to ask their co-workers directly about suicide is fantastic, as long as employees know they will be supported in their efforts.  Consistent implementation of clear company policies and procedures is necessary to avoid the appearance of punishment for disrupting production or missing goals while helping someone at risk. Clear policies make it easy for everyone to have a hand in saving lives.

Getting Help Works!  Where there is help, there is hope.  You can make a difference by bringing these strategies into your workplace.

For each suicide prevented, the United States could save an average of $1,182,559 in medical expenses ($3,875) and lost productivity ($1,178,684). Research America fact sheet 21 .  More importantly, people thinking of suicide get the help and support they need to heal and move on with their lives.