Man in work shirt leaning up against wall, contemplative look on his face.

Promoting Suicide Awareness and Prevention in the Workplace

Recent high-profile deaths by suicide have thrust the issue of suicide awareness into the national spotlight. But it’s not just celebrities who are at risk. People from all walks of life may be having suicidal thoughts and not know where to turn for help.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to ramp up awareness about this difficult topic and connect individuals with the resources they need. Sept. 9 through 15 is National Suicide Prevention Week, while Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report in June showing that suicide deaths have increased by 30 percent in nearly every state over the past two decades — and across all ages, races, genders and ethnicities. Michigan experienced a 33 percent uptick during those years.

Recognize warning signs

Families, communities and workplaces can all play a role in reversing this dangerous trend. A good place to start is by recognizing the warning signs of someone who is suicidal. Being able to recognize and respond to indications that someone is thinking of suicide may help to avert a death. Warning signs include:

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing their use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

As Dr. Kristyn Gregory, a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Care Network, said in a recent blog, “Anyone can help someone at risk. Begin a conversation, listen, help them connect.”

You can direct them to one of the following numbers:

  • National Prevention Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network: 1-800-784-2433

What else can businesses do?

  • Educate employees about common mental illnesses and suicide prevention. One good resource is bcbsm.com/engage. Scroll down to the “Mental Health Awareness” section of the page where you’ll find a wealth of information, including infographics on depression and suicide.
  • Create a culture where it’s OK to talk about mental illness and suicidal thoughts. The stigma against mental illness is one of the main reasons people don’t get the help they need. Here are some tips for ending stigma at work.
  • Consider implementing an employee assistance program if you don’t already have one. These kinds of programs offer immediate, confidential support to employees.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18 percent — experiences mental illness in a given year. And 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying mental health issue. NAMI offers images and graphics you can use on your website and social media accounts to shed light on the issue of mental health stigma.

WebMD, in an article titled “Recognizing Suicidal Behavior,” points out that while suicide is not a mental illness in itself, it’s a serious potential consequence of treatable mental disorders. These disorders include major depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorders and anxiety disorders.

When we work to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and educate employees about how mental illness works, they become more accepting of help in a time of need. The help they receive could save lives and stem the tide of rising suicide rates.

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