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9 Practices for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace

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In 2019, there were 307 workplace suicide fatalities in the United States, marking the highest level on record at that time. This alarming statistic raised concerns about addressing suicide in the workplace. However, it’s important to remember that suicide is a preventable act. Increasing awareness of this sensitive issue and promoting support within the community, particularly in a workplace environment, are essential steps. Therefore, workplace suicide prevention plans must be in place.

Suicide and its associated mental health issues became even more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those affected by the illness, long COVID was believed to increase the risk of suicide among patients. The resulting economic downturn, fear of infection, isolation, and limited access to medical care during the pandemic also significantly impacted the mental health of workers. Individuals with pre-existing mental disorders were at an even higher risk of engaging in suicidal behaviors when confronted with these challenges due to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the already serious public health issue of suicide, posing a significant challenge to address. This is especially true for workers who may have experienced layoffs and disruptions in income during this time. Suicide is already a grave public health dilemma, claiming the lives of approximately 703,000 individuals annually. It has even become the ninth leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 64.

Despite these grim statistics, there is still an opportunity to strive for improved mental health stability. It all starts with implementing suicide prevention plans. We need to take a proactive stance in combatting the serious problem of suicide. One effective approach is to establish a suicide prevention plan specifically tailored to the workplace setting. But how do we go about creating a plan to assist those dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders? Let’s delve into the details.

Constructing a Suicide Prevention Plan

During World Mental Health Day in 2019, the team at Spencer-Thomas outlined nine essential practices for preventing suicide in the workplace. These practices are collectively known as the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention. The guidelines offer actionable steps that organizations can adopt to prevent suicides.

  1. Prioritize Community Well-Being – Preventing suicide becomes feasible when there’s a sense of community care to which individuals belong. In the workplace, this requires the attention and involvement of everyone, from leaders to staff members. Every individual should understand the importance of compassion toward one another.
  2. Reduce Job Strain – A toxic workplace can severely impact mental health and exacerbate issues for individuals already struggling with mental health problems. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify and address any job-related stressors that contribute to a toxic work environment. Toxic policies or behaviors should be recognized and rectified through a positive approach.
  3. Increase Awareness – Open communication about suicide and mental health is essential. Rather than avoiding sensitive discussions on these topics, they should be openly addressed. Every employee should be educated about suicide and mental health, learning how to appropriately support someone in need and reflect on their own mental well-being.
  4. Promote Self-Care Initiatives – Equipping individuals with healthy coping mechanisms for their emotions and suicidal thoughts is vital. Activities such as exercise and counseling can play a significant role in countering potential suicide incidents within the workplace. Employees should be informed about self-care initiatives that offer clarity for their thoughts and emotions.
  5. Establish a Suicide Prevention Response Program – A comprehensive program for workplace suicide prevention can be a crucial step. This enables colleagues to watch out for each other and identify signs of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Collaboration with healthcare organizations can aid in developing an effective suicide prevention response program.
  6. Introduce Peer Support and Well-Being Ambassadors – Counseling is a pivotal component of workplace suicide prevention. By providing a safe environment for affected employees to express their feelings and thoughts, individuals can find support. Designating peer counselors or well-being ambassadors can encourage suicide prevention practices within the workplace.
  7. Provide Mental Health Resources – Numerous mental health resources are available today. However, employees might not be aware of them or have access. Therefore, organizations should offer mental health resources, encompassing mental health care, suicide hotlines, and other tools to assist individuals dealing with suicidal thoughts.
  8. Mitigate Risks – A core objective of workplace suicide prevention is to reduce the risk of self-harm. To achieve this, items that could be used for self-inflicted harm, such as firearms and hazardous materials, must be inaccessible. Restricted access to these items is essential for risk mitigation.
  9. Develop Crisis Response Strategies – Effective crisis management procedures and sustained support should be integrated into a workplace suicide prevention plan. Creating an environment that accommodates individuals who have attempted suicide and facilitating their reintegration into the organization is crucial. This approach communicates value and fosters a positive culture of workplace suicide prevention.

Initiating these actions proactively within the workplace organization is paramount. Rather than reacting after a suicide incident, business leaders should take preemptive steps toward suicide prevention. This, in turn, creates a more supportive environment for employees. With improved mental health, employees can enhance their productivity and become invaluable assets to the company.