A Blueprint for Preventing Suicides

<p>Suicide rates are soaring even though 90% of those who kill themselves have been diagnosed with a mental illness.</p>

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, more than one in four Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year -- and less than one-third of them receive mental health services. For employers, low treatment rates translate into higher costs and lower productivity. Employees with mental health problems have overall health care costs that are more than twice as high per year as individuals without these disorders. More days of missed work and work impairment are caused by mental illness than by other chronic health conditions like diabetes and arthritis, according to the American Medical Association. It is estimated that untreated mental illness contributes to $50 billion a year in lost productivity and an average of 321 million lost work days. Although more difficult to measure, the loss in productivity because of presenteeism -- attending work while sick -- is almost 7.5 times greater than that lost to absenteeism. Furthermore, more than 90% of those who die by suicide have been diagnosed with a mental illness. In the past decade, suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have increased sharply. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose nearly 30%. Among men in their 50s, rates jumped nearly 50%. Something needs to be done. But what? The good news for employers and employees is that mental illness is treatable. In fact, 60% to 80% of people with mental health problems will improve with proper diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Early intervention is key, so employers can help employees receive the assistance they may need. Worksite wellness initiatives can take on many different forms and can vary in depth. Anonymous online screenings are an effective way to reach employees who underestimate the effects of their own condition and are unaware of helpful resources. Quality programs can raise employees' awareness and help organizations effectively and compassionately address mental health in the workplace. One group that is actively working to make a difference in how mental health is viewed on the job is the Workplace Task Force. A component of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Workplace Task Force is composed of thought leaders striving to deliver a compelling business case that offers solutions, provides support for employers and motivates them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach. For instance, the task force developed the Comprehensive Blueprint for Suicide Prevention in the Workplace. This blueprint offers employers a guideline to best practices in addressing mental health and wellness. Brief mental health screenings are just one piece of the puzzle when building out your plan. Workplace mental health programs can prevent progress toward a full-blown disease, controlling symptoms and improving treatment. Investing in employee mental health now means savings later for both a company and potentially an individual’s life.

Michelle Holmberg

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Michelle Holmberg

Michelle Holmberg is the Director of Programs for Screening for Mental Health, Inc., providing strategic direction, planning, development and implementation across programming. She has her master’s degree in Community Psychology from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Michelle’s background includes organizational training around LGBTQ cultural competency and how community health centers recruit and retain a diverse workforce.

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