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Employers’ Role in Preventing Suicide

American adults working full time spend an average of 47 hours per week at their workplace (Gallup 2013). For those dealing with a mental health issue or thoughts of suicide, employers have an important opportunity to create safeguards to protect those who may be at risk.

There are many reasons why an employee may keep concerns about his or her mental health private. Stigma, fear of losing one’s job, and lack of awareness can prevent an individual from seeking help. It can also prevent someone who is concerned about a co-worker from reaching out when they may be needed most.

Research shows that 70% of those who die by suicide tell someone or give warning signs before taking their own life. Coworkers see each other every day and are more apt to notice changes in mood and behavior. For this reason, they play a key role in identifying potential suicide risk and mental health crises in their peers.

See also: Blueprint for Suicide Prevention  

Mental health education and awareness programs can help to create an environment where employees feel comfortable reaching out for help and should be a primary component of workplace wellness initiatives. Employers can implement the following strategies that not only connect their employees with help but also promote a culture of mental health awareness:

Health Promotion

Health promotion programs enable employees to take action to better their health. While employers often use health promotion to encourage physical health changes, employers can use health promotion to discuss mental health issues and encourage a culture of employee engagement and connection, as well. National Depression Screening Day, held on Oct. 6 this year, raises awareness for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders. The annual campaign provides employers with an opportunity to start the conversation with employees about mental health.

Online Screenings

Anonymous online screenings are a proven way to reach those in need and help direct them to appropriate assistance. Employees can take a screening to determine if the symptoms they are experiencing are consistent with a mental health disorder (i.e., depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder or a substance use disorder). Upon completion of a screening, employees are provided with immediate results and linked back to employee assistance program or local community resources. If your organization does not currently have an online screening program, a more general anonymous screening can be taken here.

Suicide Prevention Awareness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data showing a 24% increase on average of suicide rates from 1999 to 2014. It is critical that employees learn how to talk with someone about mental health, understand how to recognize warning signs of suicide and know the actions to take to get themselves or a coworker the help they need.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force champions suicide prevention as a national priority and cultivates effective programming and resources within the workplace. The task force provides support for employers and motivates them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach to suicide prevention, intervention and “postvention” in the workplace. Programs like the Workplace Task Force are important sources of knowledge and assistance for employers.

See also: 6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides  

Employers can provide resources such as Stop a Suicide Today, which educates individuals about the warning signs of suicide and steps to take if they are concerned about a coworker or loved one. There are also other lifesaving resources, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK (8255)).

The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the second leading cause of disability by 2020. Employers have the option to act as catalysts for early detection and prevention when it comes to mental health disorders and suicide, which can lead to improved quality of life for individuals, as well as for the organization itself.

Reducing Substance Use in the Workplace

Mental health and substance use disorders are common in the U.S., affecting millions each year. While these illnesses are serious and often recurring, they are treatable. Prevention programs, early intervention and screenings are important and necessary parts of treatment and recovery. Workplace programs to prevent and reduce substance use among employees can be especially effective.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, approximately 70% of drug users, binge and heavy drinkers and people with substance use disorders are employed. In 2014, about 21.5 million Americans were classified with a substance use disorder. Of those, 2.6 million had problems with both alcohol and drugs, 4.5 million had problems with drugs but not alcohol and 14.4 million had problems with alcohol only.

See Also: Winning the War Against Opioid Addiction and Abuse

Substance use disorders can present in a number of different ways in the workplace:

  • Workers with alcohol problems were 2.7 times more likely than workers without drinking problems to have injury-related absences.
  • Large federal surveys show that 24% of workers report drinking during the workday at least once in the past year.
  • One-fifth of workers and managers across a wide range of industries and company sizes report that a coworker’s on- or off-the-job drinking jeopardized their own productivity and safety.
  • Workers who report having three or more jobs in the previous five years are about twice as likely to be current or past-year users of illegal drugs as those who have had two or fewer jobs.

Coworkers and supervisors are in a unique position to notice a developing problem. Missed days of work, increased tardiness and reduced quality of work can all be signs of substance use.

Early intervention and prevention programs can be key in slowing the move toward addiction and improving chances for recovery. Many organizations offer employee assistance programs and educational programs to increase awareness and reduce substance use problems. Anonymous online screenings are also an effective way to reach employees who underestimate the effects of their own condition and are unaware of helpful resources.

For employers looking to address substance use issues in the workplace, national awareness days can be a great starting point. The website HowDoYouScore.org, developed by the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health Inc., offers anonymous screenings for alcohol and substance use. Efforts like these help to reduce stigma and to teach employees to recognize symptoms in themselves and others. Manager trainings on substance abuse symptoms, support for employees who seek treatment (paid time off, disability leave, etc.) and health insurance (including robust mental health coverage) are also excellent ways to support employees.

Those who struggle with substance use and addiction also have higher rates of suicide. To fight this serious connection, the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force champions suicide prevention as a national priority and cultivates effective programming and resources within the workplace. The task force provides support for employers and motivates them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach to suicide prevention, intervention and postvention in the workplace. Programs like the Workplace Task Force are important sources of knowledge and assistance for employers.

When organizations make the health of their workers a priority, benefits are seen beyond the individual employee. Improved attendance, quality of work and overall morale can lead to the betterment of the entire organization. While substance use disorders are common, they are treatable. Workplace-based programs are key to recognizing symptoms early and connecting employees with the treatment they may need.

How to Address Eating Disorders at Work

In America, 30 million people will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in their life. With statistics this high, it is likely that someone you know, or perhaps even you, has struggled with this mental health issue. Family members, friends and even coworkers can struggle with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Despite their prevalence, eating disorders are treatable. It is important to know the signs and symptoms as well as what to do if someone you know is at risk—especially in the workplace.

Our workplaces are often a source of stress. Deadlines, long hours and strained relationships can leave us feeling tired and vulnerable. When we feel down, we can be more susceptible to mental illness, including eating disorders, and stressful times can exacerbate existing conditions. With eating disorders, as with most illnesses, early intervention is important.

Businesses are in an excellent position to help employees who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Wellness programs can help raise awareness and encourage treatment. And anonymous screening programs can be an effective way to assist employees.

Anonymous and confidential mental health screenings are designed to help individuals examine any thoughts or behaviors that may be associated with eating disorders. After completing the self-assessment, users are provided with helpful resources and treatment information, if necessary. Although the screenings are not diagnostic, they will determine if someone is exhibiting symptoms associated with an eating disorder and if that someone should seek help.

Some common eating disorder signs and symptoms include:

  • Frequent comments about feeling “fat” or overweight
  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and the control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • Hiding body with baggy clothes
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods or lots of wrappers and containers indicating consumption of large amounts of food
  • Maintaining an excessive, rigid exercise regimen—despite weather, fatigue, illness or injury—because of the need to “burn off” calories
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water or using excessive amounts of mouthwash, mints and gum

If you are concerned that a coworker may have an eating disorder, there are things you can do to help. Rather than focus on issues related to their physical appearance, let your coworker know you have noticed a change in their behavior. Perhaps the quality of their work has suffered or their mood has changed. Let them know that you care and offer helpful resources. If your workplace offers a wellness or screening program, share that information. Anonymous eating disorder screenings are always available at MyBodyScreening.org. Be sure to follow-up with the coworker to see how they are doing. Support systems are important as they work toward recovery.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is a public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, put forward by the U.S. surgeon general. The alliance supports mental health and suicide prevention programs in the workplace and endorses mental health screenings as part of those programs. Screenings can make a difference in mental health and suicide prevention.

As millions of adults struggle with eating disorders, workplaces can make an impact by spreading awareness, offering screenings and encouraging treatment. It is in the best interest of an employer to help workers stay healthy and productive. Wellness and screening programs are a proven way to do this.

Hope on Depression in the Workplace

There is a silent epidemic taking a toll on the American workforce. This illness affects 9.5% of the adult population and is to blame for 200 million lost workdays each year. Those lost workdays cost employers an estimated $17 billion to $44 billion. Despite these staggering statistics, only one-third of those affected by this common illness will ever seek professional help. What is this cause of disability, absenteeism and productivity loss? Depression.

There are many reasons an employee may keep concerns about his mental health private. Stigma, fear of losing his job and lack of awareness can prevent an individual from seeking help. Despite these hurdles, there are strategies employers can implement to not only connect their employees with the help they need but to also improve productivity. Employers that address mental health issues have happier, healthier employees and see increased productivity and profits.

Confidential online depression screenings are a proven way to reach those in need and help direct them to appropriate assistance. For more than a decade, the WorkplaceResponse program has worked with organizations to address mental health issues in the workplace. Developed by the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health, WorkplaceResponse is a mental health education and screening program that easily integrates into existing employee assistance programs or enhances existing wellness initiatives hosted by human resource departments or employee assistance programs.

The program offers screenings for common mental health concerns, including depression, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders and alcohol use disorders. Screenings are anonymous and engage employees in becoming active participants in their own well-being. Upon completion of a screening, employees are provided with immediate results and linked back to employee assistance program (EAP), local or company resources.

Health promotion programs can also have positive effects in the workplace. These programs serve as excellent tools to increase mental health awareness and educate workers on the signs and symptoms of depression. Managers and employees who can identify these symptoms can assist at-risk individuals with receiving the help they need.

National Depression Screening Day (NDSD), held annually on the Thursday of the first full week in October, is dedicated to raising awareness and screening people for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders. NDSD is the nation’s oldest voluntary, community-based screening program that gives access to validated screening questionnaires and provides referral information for treatment.

Oct. 8 marks the 25th year of the revolutionary campaign. This milestone allows for opportunities to begin the conversation about mental health in the workplace. Identifying workplace risk factors, taking action to reduce employee stress and initiating organizational wellness programs can be productive first steps.

Employers can make a difference by encouraging employees to take a quick, anonymous mental health assessment at http://helpyourselfhelpothers.org/ or by launching a 25-day wellness challenge. To encourage employees to take care of their mental health, a 25-day wellness challenge provides ideas and actions individuals can take to relieve stress, boost mindfulness and foster healthy behaviors. Examples include walking, cooking with family and taking a break from technology. Simple methods like the challenge can help increase awareness in the workplace.

It is time to address workplace depression. Effective screening tools are available, and treatment works. The early detection and prevention of mental health conditions can improve the lives of individual employees as well as the health of an organization.

The Mental Health Disorder Employers Need to Recognize

As many employers offer wellness programs, they focus on increasing their employees’ physical health but often neglect to offer any mental health component to their wellness programs. If employers do offer a mental health component to their wellness programs, the focus is usually on depression, the most common mental health issue. Yet, there is a prevalent mental health disorder that affects 30 million Americans and often goes untreated – eating disorders.

Employers that provide incentives for weight loss programs without a mental health component are putting themselves at risk by not being able to detect employees who develop unhealthy eating and exercise habits.

Twenty million women and 10 million men will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).  Research shows that 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20% to 25% develop partial or full eating disorders.

There is a common misperception that eating disorders are simply an obsession with eating or dieting. Eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder. Individuals with anorexia nervosa are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and suicide is the leading cause of death for those with this disorder. Eating disorders also often occur along with other mental illnesses, and approximately 50% to 75% of those with an eating disorder also suffer from major depressive disorder. However, because of the stigma surrounding eating disorders and mental health, only one in 10 will seek treatment.

Mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, need to be viewed and treated like physical illnesses. As with most illnesses, early intervention and detection are the keys to recovery.

How Employers Can Help

  1. Learn the signs and symptoms of eating disorders:
  • Constant adherence to increasingly strict diets, regardless of weight
  • Habitual trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Secretly bingeing on large amounts of food
  • Hoarding large amounts of food
  • Exercising compulsively, often several hours per day
  • Avoidance of meals or situations where food may be present
  • Preoccupation with weight, body size and shape, or specific aspects of one’s appearance
  • Obsessing over calorie intake and calories burned via exercise, even as one may be losing significant amounts of weight

The National Eating Disorder Association provides more information on the types of eating disorders and signs and symptoms. 

Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Stopasuicide.org provides more information on the signs and symptoms of suicide and how to help.

Provide employees tools to check in on their mental health:

  • Online screenings are a great first step toward treatment and offer employees an anonymous, confidential way to learn if they have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder or other mental health disorder.
  •  Online screenings consist of a series of questions designed to indicate whether symptoms of an eating disorder are present. The screenings also includes a question about suicide. If an individual provides a positive answer during this question, a pop-up message appears that provides the individual with emergency resources such as 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline, if needed.
  • After completing the screening, participants receive immediate feedback and referral information to local resources for further information or treatment.

Connect with resources

  • The Workplace Task Force, a component of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, provides support for employers and works with them to implement a comprehensive, public health approach to employee wellness.

The best way to address employee mental health is to ensure it is a key component of any employee wellness program. In addition, employers that publicly show a commitment to employee mental health help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders and increase help-seeking among those suffering.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb, 22-28, providing employers with a great opportunity to increase awareness of eating disorders among their employees. Screening for Mental Health in partnership with the National Eating Disorder Association provides anonymous online mental health screenings at http://mybodyscreening.org/.