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Lora ambled into her I.T. office like she had on hundreds of Monday mornings, noticed the eerie silence and empty cubicles, atypical for the first of the week bustle. Then she saw a circle of weeping coworkers standing in back of the office, embracing one another. When she approached them, they informed her that Ron, their team manager, had killed himself. Devastated, she melted into the circle and wept her own tears of shock and sorrow.
Overall Rates On The Rise
Nationally, suicide is at a 50-year high, a major mental health crisis with 44,000 Americans dying by suicide every year. Nine police officers in the New York City Police Department committed suicide year alone. Rates are highest among working adults between 45 and 64. According to an alarming recent report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. suicide rates are the highest since World War II. The new report said the rate was 33% higher in 2017 than in 1999 in both men and women and among all races and ethnicities. The high rates of stress, the opioid epidemic and widespread social media—where bullying and discussions of suicide are prevalent among youth—are believed to be contributing factors. Men and women with substance abuse disorders are six times more likely to complete suicide than those who don’t use.
Climbing Incidences In The Workplace
Suicides related to workplace issues are also rising. In 2013—the most recent available statistics—270 U.S. employees completed suicide at work—a 12% increase over 2012. Workplace stress is believed to be the leading factor in suicides when employees have little or no control over high job demands. According to a StressPulse survey, excessive workload (46%) and interpersonal issues (28%) are the leading sources of workplace stress. Most employees who attempt or die by suicide have mental health or psychological disorders that haven’t been addressed. When a disgruntled employee loses a promotion or gets fired, it can become a final straw on top of pre-existing stressors and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or drug use. Male employees are 15 times more likely than females to commit suicide because of workplace issues. One study by the Institute of Health examined the chronic impact of work on suicide. It found that a sample of 63 employees who completed suicide had depression and anxiety, excessive debt, higher impulsivity and poorer social support, compared to a control group of 112 non-suicidal employees. Today In: Leadership
Prevention And Coping
It is estimated that eight out of ten people who consider suicide show signs of their intentions to harm themselves. If you or someone you know are considering suicide, it’s important to know what to look for and what to do.
1. Know the signs. Some of the signs of suicide ideation are isolation at work, poor job performance, sudden change in an employee’s personality, previous suicide attempts or threats such as, “This job would be better without me in it” or “I might not be around to put my name in the hat for that promotion.” Expressions of hopelessness, depression, burnout, chronic absenteeism and lack of interest in the job are also symptoms.
2. Provide training. If you’re an employer, make sure HR personnel are well educated about suicide and suicidal ideation. If you are an employee in an organization where suicide hasn’t been acknowledged or discussed, speak to someone in authority who can take steps to provide training for all employees. With appropriate training, you know how to identify and intervene to make sure a vulnerable employee gets professional help before becoming suicidal. Otherwise, social isolation can cut suicidal employees off from help when they most need it. Training teaches you that any form of stigma–judgment, name-calling or shame–must be avoided at all costs. Otherwise, it could push a suicidal employee over the edge.
3. Take threats or attempts seriously. No suicide threat or attempt should be dismissed or taken lightly. Statistics show that employees who talk about or threaten suicide or call crisis centers are thirty times more likely than average to kill themselves. And 40% of people who complete suicide had made a previous attempt. Threats or attempts are cries for help that something is gravely wrong in an employee’s life, and you should take them seriously and deal with them immediately. It’s important to be supportive, compassionate and understanding in cases where a coworker is suicidal. If you’re concerned that a coworker is suicidal, trust your instincts. Reach out to the person, share your concerns and be willing to listen. Find out if the person has a concrete plan to harm. If so, don’t leave the person alone or keep it a secret. Never attempt to counsel a suicidal person unless you’re trained. Inform someone in authority immediately and insist the employee get professional help even if he or she resists.
4. Arrange help for coworkers. When an employee completes suicide, it affects everyone in that person’s life: family, friends and coworkers. The managers in Lora’s firm brought in professional mental health providers to help workers cope with the shock and loss. It’s incumbent on management to provide employees an opportunity to process the trauma together as a group, ask questions and receive coping tips on how to emotionally self-care during this disturbing time.
5. Reach out for support. If you or someone you know might be contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis text live. In an emergency, you can always call 911 or contact a local hospital or mental health facility.