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Preventing Deaths Following a Suicide

Suicide continues to be among the most stigmatized topics of all human experiences. It is, therefore, characterized by fear, shame and misunderstanding.  Myths include:

  • “If we talk about suicide, it’s more likely to occur.” The truth is just the opposite.
  • “It will never happen in my circle of friends, family and co-workers.” The truth is: Given the staggering statistics of how many Americans seriously contemplate, plan for and attempt suicide, chances are you know someone who is at serious risk right now.

Fortunately, many progressive and courageous business leaders are beginning to bring this terribly misunderstood topic out of the shadows and into meaningful discussion. This is important not only because the suicide death of an employee has a devastating impact on the workforce and productivity but, more importantly, because leaders are recognizing that the workplace is uniquely positioned to help prevent suicide.

As a critical incident response consultant for more than 20 years, and now the clinical director for Crisis Care Network, which responds to more than 1,100 workplace critical incidents a month, with as many as 40 to 50 a month being the suicide of an employee, I have been involved in thousands of employee suicide death responses over the years. I can attest to the shock, sorrow and disruption most employees and organizations feel.

I can also attest to the fact that, in most cases, at least one other employee will step forward and say to the consultant on site that, in addition to all the other complex feelings in response to the co-worker’s death, he or she is also frightened by the fact he or she is likewise giving serious consideration to suicide. I was at a workplace response recently where a young female employee, about the same age as the employee who had committed suicide, approached me after a group session to say that she was very scared at how frequently she herself thinks about suicide. She had never told anyone. She knew she probably needed to talk with a professional counselor but always felt ashamed and intimidated by the notion.

Fortunately, her employer cared enough to have a comprehensive employee assistance program (EAP) in place that brought in critical incident response services. EAPs, by design, try to remove as many barriers as possible that would prevent employees from receiving effective services. Access is typically 24/7, confidential, at no cost to the employee and available immediately as a telephonic consultation, or as a face-to-face appointment at a convenient location within 72 hours.

After further discussion with this employee to determine her level of risk or urgency, we sat together and called the EAP to make an appointment.

All employers should be planning now for how they would handle a suicide, so they can be sure to use the opportunity not only to care for employees but to take a proven series of steps that will make future suicides less likely. For the guidebook on what is known as “postvention,” click here.