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August 31, 2022 Haeli Harris

Suicide Education: What To Do If Someone Is Feeling Suicidal at Work

Talking about suicide at work can save lives. 

Suicide at work has risen significantly over the years, with those in management, food service, sales, military, and first responder positions at the highest risk. Millions of people suffer from suicide loss every year. 

Suicide is most common for people of working age, between ages 26 and 64. Companies have an opportunity to educate employees about this topic and help save lives this Suicide Prevention Month. 

Company leaders and employees should understand how to help someone (or themselves) in the workplace if they feel suicidal or driven to self-harm and support anyone impacted by the suicide of someone they love. This article can be shared with your team or used as an outline for a corporate workshop for Suicide Prevention Month.

We highly recommend bringing in a counselor to help you run the workshop. Contact us to book a workshop for your team with a licensed counselor.

What is Suicide Prevention Month, and why is it relevant to the workplace?

Suicide Prevention Month falls in September of every year. The purpose is to spread awareness about suicide and save lives.

Death by suicide is more common than death by car accidents. “Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10–14 and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 in the U.S.,” according to the National Insitute of Mental Health

When managers and employees know the signs of suicide and self-harm, lives can be saved.

Employees and managers should understand how to talk about suicide and self-harm or refer an employee to a mental health professional that can support them. If an employee expresses their struggle, suicide prevention education can help parents spot the signs in their children.

Understanding suicide at work can also enable workplaces to support employees whose loved one has died of suicide.

It is imperative to talk to men about suicide prevention, as men are four times more likely to die of suicide than women.

Understanding self-harm and suicide

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. Suicide is a form of self-harm. Self-harm does not necessarily lead to suicide.

About 5% of people will self-harm at some point in their life. While self-harm is much more common in teenagers and young adults, anyone may self-harm at any point in their life.

Here are some common terms on suicide and self-harm at work to be familiar with.

Died of suicide

“Died of suicide” refers to someone who followed through with their suicide plan and is no longer living.

Mental health professionals are moving away from using the phrase “committed suicide,” as it can imply criminal intent. The person who died of suicide was experiencing intense suffering and likely experiencing a mental illness.

Suicide attempt

A suicide attempt has the aim of ending one’s own life, which may be impulsive or planned. Some methods have a higher chance of lethality than others.

Suicidal ideation

This includes considering, planning, or thinking about suicide as an option. Suicidal ideation can include intense or fleeting thoughts, such as “I’d rather not wake up tomorrow.”

Self-harm

AKA parasuicidal behavior or nonsuicidal self-injury, this is harm done to oneself without the intention to commit suicide. It can include cutting, bruising, pulling out hair, scratching, or hitting oneself.

People self-harm to try and regulate their emotions. For people struggling, self-harm can feel safer than facing their feelings. Self-harm can be a distraction, a release of tension, a way to punish oneself, or a way to stop feeling numb. Self-harm releases dopamine and serotonin, leading to a euphoric feeling after the fact. As a result, people can become addicted to self-harm.

People may or may not self-harm to seek attention. It is essential to hone in on why someone may seek attention. The person may not know how to ask for support or have a safe way to get help. Self-harm is a symptom of a deeper mental health issue.

It is vital for people who self-harm to seek support and find healthier outlets to handle their emotions.

Signs that someone is self-harming or feels suicidal

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the signs and symptoms of suicide and self-harm.

Physical Signs

  • Scars (especially on the arms or legs)
  • Scratches, cuts, and bruises
  • Missing hair
  • Hygiene neglect

Behavioral Signs

  • Withdrawing or distancing from others
  • Irritability and/or impulsiveness
  • Covering up injuries with long sleeves or pants
  • Claiming that injuries are due to accidents or clumsiness
  • Questioning identity and perfectionism
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of intense sadness, aggression, anxiety, guilt, low self-esteem, and/or shame (especially a sign of suicide if there are sudden signs of improvement)
  • Talking about suicide or self-harm, being a “burden,” or feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Increased use of substances
  • Giving away objects or possessions
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Overworking or underworking

Risk factors for suicide at work

  • Workplace bullying
  • Intense work stress
  • Extremely high expectations
  • Work conflict
  • Little work-life balance

What to do when someone is suicidal at work

When it is yourself

1. Call someone you trust

The best way to keep yourself safe is to talk to people you trust about what you are experiencing. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline is a 24/7, confidential hotline option for people that are suicidal or know someone who is suicidal. 

2. Talk to a therapist

A licensed therapist will help you create a safety or crisis plan to help you avoid triggers that cause you to feel suicidal. They will help you determine your “warning signs,” or whatever might signal that you are struggling (substance abuse, withdrawal, self-harm, etc.). You will then learn coping skills that work for you, like exercise, calling a hotline, spending time on hobbies, spending time with loved ones, etc. 

3. Follow through with your treatment plan and practice self-care

Determine whom you can trust and whom you can call when you need support. Make sure to reach out to someone when you need help.

Connecting with your community in person can help build mental fitness. Schedule time to spend time in the community, even if it is just working in a coffee shop. Plan to meet up with people in your support system, volunteer, and more.

For more on building community at work, check out these articles:

The road to healing is not linear. Be gentle with yourself when you struggle, and make yourself a priority in your life.

When you suspect someone else may be feeling suicidal at work

1. Start a conversationSuicide Education What To Do If Someone Is Feeling Suicidal at Work - two people holding hands in the winter over table comforting each other

Open the door to the conversation by showing that you care about their wellbeing. Ask the employee what is going on and how you can support them.

2. Try talking about your mental health

This often helps people feel more comfortable talking about their own mental health struggles. You can explain what has helped you heal or overcome mental health challenges. 

3. Offer support and help them build a support system 

There are four key ways you can offer support:

  1. Reach out often to check in on them. 
  2. If you are a manager, work with the employee to reprioritize tasks, plan PTO, and reduce workload. Creating a more flexible schedule for the employee to attend therapy appointments, spend time with family, practice self-care, and work whenever is best for their health and productivity can help.
  3. Encourage the employee to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.
  4. Show the employee how to utilize their insurance benefits, EAP, or any other mental health services your company provides so they can get help.

When someone tells you they are suicidal at work

1. Clarify what they mean 

Ask specific questions like: “Do you want to kill yourself?” It is important to get clarification to understand what they are saying and their intent. 

2. Be present and listen

Listen, and show the person love and respect. If you are in a public place, respect their privacy and suggest moving to a private place like their office. Don’t leave them alone. 

Listen to them and let them explain their feelings. Focus on listening, not on talking. Do not say, “You do not want to commit suicide… think of your family!” Don’t give advice or suggest solutions—leave that to mental health professionals. 

3. Connect the person to resources that they can rely on

Connect the employee to hotlines and community resources (see a list at the end of this article), and help them set an appointment with a therapist through your mental health program or EAP. This will help them build a support system. Encourage the employee to contact their emergency contact and other loved ones.

You can call for a welfare check if you think this person is especially unsafe. It is always better to be safe than sorry in these situations. If the person tells you they intend to harm themselves, call 911, consult your HR team about the company’s emergency contact policies, and reach out to the employee’s emergency contact. Tell the employee that you must make sure they stay safe and call 911 and their emergency contact because of what you have told them. When talking to 911, explain what the employee told you.

4. Check in with them often

Make sure to work with HR to ensure any other next steps to support the employee, such as ensuring they have access to the company EAP. If you are not their manager, ensure that HR contacts the employees’ manager to create a plan to support the employee.

5. Create boundaries to protect your mental health

Take care of yourself, and remember that you are not responsible for their healing, but you can help support them along the way. Keep encouraging the employee to reach out to their support system, use the EAP or mental health program, and connect with their community at work and in their personal life.

Key Workplace Culture Characteristics that Help Prevent Suicide at Work 

These key cultural characteristics help foster an environment of mental fitness and support in general. These company attributes can also help those suffering from the loss of a loved one who died from suicide.

1. Respect and trust

Respect and trust foster more profound connections. A culture without trust leads to micromanagement, which can be exceedingly stressful for employees.

Respect can also include:

  • Respecting anniversaries of suicide deaths by allowing the employee to a PTO day
  • Respecting privacy

2. Inclusion

Helping everyone feel like they belong is crucial for community connection, which helps reduce suicide risk. This includes respecting and treating people equally regardless of background, health history, or mental fitness.

3. Social support

Positive feedback, for example, can give employees much-needed support amidst self-doubt and low self-worth. 

If you are a remote team, emphasize social connection by holding workshops on mental health, happy hours, and fun team activities. 

4. Prioritization of mental health

Creating and implementing clear mental health initiatives and encouraging leaders to discuss mental health are great places to start.

5. Tools and space for healing

Designating a trained mental health champion at your company to talk to employees about mental health and consult with leadership about supporting employee mental health can be helpful for larger companies. 

Ensure that you provide all employees with an EAP and mental health program for immediate help and long-term support. Have HR train employees to use these tools for prevention and crisis management. Additionally, allow employees to take PTO and maintain a healthy work-life balance to heal from the death of a loved one by suicide or feelings of suicide they may be experiencing.

6. Balance

Work with managers to ensure that employees are not overloaded. Also, ensure that employees are not overworking themselves to cope with the loss of someone from suicide or their stress.

7. Listening

Managers need to create a space where employees feel that they can speak up about any challenges they are experiencing in the workplace so they can get help.

Here are some resources to help HR and company leaders create a culture that upholds these characteristics.

Crisis resources to provide your team

For Suicide Prevention at Work

Dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline

Call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-6264 or text “HelpLine” to 62640 

Text the Crisis Text Line by texting “Home” to 741741

Call the Veterans Crisis Text Line at 988 and dial 1 or text 838255

For managers

A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of Suicide from the Action Alliance

Preventing Suicide at Work from the WHO

 

Learn About the Power of Self-Care

Download the Mental Health Tool Kit to learn about mental health in the workplace – what it is, why it matters, and how you can start supporting employee mental health!

 

Disclaimer

By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take the place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris

Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Lead Counselor at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.

Licenses, Certifications & Memberships
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, UT & HI
Registered Yoga Teacher 200
Trauma Conscious Yoga (2021)
Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Education
Bachelor's of Science Degree in Human Development and Family Studies, University of Utah
Master's of Arts Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, Northcentral University

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