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November 7, 2019

New Guidelines for Preventing Suicides

Summary:

Understanding suicide through a public health framework offers many new solutions.

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The American Association of Suicidology (AAS), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and United Suicide Survivors International (United Survivors), announced their collaboration and release of the first National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention on World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10, 2019). The guidelines — built by listening to the expertise of diverse groups like HR, employment law, employee assistance professionals, labor and safety leaders and many people who had experienced a suicide crisis while they were employed — aim to jump start the ability for employers and workplaces to become involved in suicide prevention in the workplace. For employers and professional associations ready to take the pledge and become vocal, visible and visionary, please visit WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com.

Justification

Over two-thirds of the American population participates in the workforce; we often spend more waking time working each week than we do with our families. When a workplace is working well, it is often a place of belonging and purpose — qualities of our well-being that can sustain us when life gets unmanageable. Many workplaces also provide access to needed mental health resources through employee assistance programs and peer support. If we are ever going to get in front of the tragedy of suicide, we need to widen our lens from seeing suicide only within a mental health framework to a broader public health one. In other words, when suicide and suicidal intensity are seen only as the consequence of a mental health condition, the only change agents are mental health professionals, and the call to action becomes a “personal issue” that people take care of with their providers — but not all problems will be solved by getting a bunch of employees to counselors. When we understand suicide through a public health framework, many additional solutions are available. Through this broader lens, workplaces now understand the importance of a culture that contributes to emotional resilience rather than to psychological toxicity, and they can take steps to create a caring community of well-being.

Guidelines Development Process

After the CDC’s 2018 report that ranked suicide rates by industry, some employers started to feel more of a sense of urgency and requested tools to protect their workers from this form of crisis and tragedy. The Workplace Committee of the American Association of Suicidology resolved to do something more important: to create a set of National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention. Over the next two years, the group enrolled over 200 partners into the effort and subsequently forged a core partnership to conduct an exploratory analysis (the full 100-page report of findings can be found at www.WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com). The ultimate purpose of this needs and strengths assessment was to guide the development an interactive, accessible and effective on-line tool designed to help employers and others achieve a prevention mindset and implement best practices to reduce suicide intensity and suicide death. Some of these best practices are about supporting despairing or grieving employees, and others are about fixing psychosocial hazards at work that can drive people to suicidal despair.

Goals and Target Audience

The collaborative partners’ goal is to enroll workplaces and professional associations to join in the global suicide prevention effort by building and sustaining comprehensive strategies embedded within their health and safety priorities. Across the United States, workplaces are taking a closer look at mental health promotion and suicide prevention, shifting their role and perspective on suicide from “not our business,” to a mindset that says “we can do better.” We hope this ground-breaking effort helps provide the inspiration and the road map to move workplaces and the organizations that support them from inactive bystanders to bold leaders.

See also: Blueprint for Suicide Prevention  

Many different employer roles can benefit from these guidelines, including leadership, HR, community collaborators who will partner in the process, investors who can contribute resources for the development and sustainability of these guidelines, evaluators who can assess the effectiveness of workplace suicide prevention, peers (co-workers, family and friends) who want to help and many others.
The newly developed guidelines, designed to be cross-cutting through private and public sectors, large and small employers, and all industries will:

  • Give employers and professional associations an opportunity to pledge to engage in the effort of suicide prevention. Sign the pledge here: WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com.
  • Demonstrate an implementation structure for workplace best practices in a comprehensive, public health approach.
  • Provide data and resources to advance the cause of workplace suicide prevention.
  • Bring together diverse stakeholders in a collaborative public-private model.
  • Make recommendations for easily deployed tools, training and resources for short-term action inside of long-term change.

Nine Recommended Practices

The exploratory analysis also uncovered a number of suggestions for nine areas of practice. They are:

  • Leadership: Cultivate a Caring Culture Focused on Community Well-Being
  • Assess and Address Job Strain and Toxic Work Contributors
  • Communication: Increase Awareness of Understanding Suicide and Reduce Fear of Suicidal People
  • Self-Care Orientation: Encourage Self-Screening and Stress/Crisis Inoculation Planning
  • Training: Build a Stratified Suicide Prevention Response Program
  • Peer Support and Well-Being Ambassadors: Set Informal and Formal Initiatives
  • Mental Health and Crisis Resources: Evaluate and Promote
  • Mitigating Risk: Reduce Access to Lethal Means and Address Legal Issues
  • Crisis Response: Prepare for Accommodation, Re-integration and Postvention

See also: Social Media and Suicide Prevention

Conclusion

This exploratory analysis is a starting point to develop guidelines and best practices to help employers and professional associations aspire to a “zero suicide mindset” and implement tactics to alleviate suffering and enhance a passion for living in the workplace. The process identified high-level motivations for (predominantly around worker safety and well-being) and barriers (lack of leadership buy- in and resources) that prevent the establishment of national guidelines for workplace suicide prevention.

To learn more and take the pledge, please visit WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com and follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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About the Author

Sally Spencer-Thomas is a clinical psychologist, inspirational international speaker and impact entrepreneur. Dr. Spencer-Thomas was moved to work in suicide prevention after her younger brother, a Denver entrepreneur, died of suicide after a battle with bipolar condition.

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About the Author

Maggie G. Mortali, MPH is a senior program director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

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About the Author

Dr. Jodi Jacobson Frey is an associate professor at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work. Dr. Jacobson Frey chairs the employee assistance program (EAP) sub-specialization and the financial social work initiative.

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