Tag Archives: Crisis Care Network

10 Steps for Dealing With a Suicide

(Adapted from A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing With the Aftermath of a Suicide)

Death jars our concept of the way life is supposed to be. That dissonance is multiplied when the death is by suicide.

Following the tragedy of death by suicide, the workforce will include people whose personal struggles already leave them vulnerable and who now face increased risk for destructive behavior, including suicide. Tragedy can beget additional tragedies. Sometimes irrational blaming behavior includes violence. Sometimes suicide contagion, or “copycat suicides,” occur. How leaders respond (postvention) after death by suicide is critical to stopping that negative momentum.

“Postvention” can be prevention

Defined by the Suicide Prevention Resource Council as “the provision of crisis intervention and other support after a suicide has occurred to address and alleviate possible effects of suicide,” effective postvention has been found to stabilize community, prevent contagion and facilitate return to a new normal.

  1. Coordinate: Contain the crisis. Like the highway patrolmen on-sight at a traffic accident, postvention aims to prevent one tragedy from leading to another and return normal progression as soon as is safely possible.
  1. Notify: Protect and respect the privacy rights of the deceased employee and the person’s loved ones during death notification.
  1. Communicate: Reduce the potential for contagion. Communicate, communicate, communicate meaningful information. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Focus on solutions to immediate issues. Repeat it. Repeat it again.

Crisis Care Network, the largest provider of critical incident response services to the workplace, developed a crisis communication process that has been helpful for business leaders. The acronym ACT describes a means of acknowledging, communicating and transitioning amid a crisis.

See Also: 6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicide

Acknowledge and name the incident

  • Have an accurate understanding of the facts and avoid conjecture.
  • Demonstrate the courage to use real language that names what occurred.
  • Acknowledge that the incident has an impact on team members and that it is okay that individuals will be affected differently.

Communicate pertinent information with both compassion and competence

  • In the absence of information, people create it. Providing information reduces the likelihood of rumors, builds trust and provides a sense of order that supports moving forward.
  • Although very difficult to do when affected by traumatic stress oneself, communicating with both competence and compassion demonstrates leadership effectiveness in a caring way. Employee assistance program (EAP) consultants often help business leaders by scripting and coaching their messaging.

Transition toward a future focus

  • Communicate an expectation of recovery. Those affected must gain a vision of “survivor” rather than “victim.” Research indicates that humans are an amazingly resilient species and overwhelmingly bounces back from adversity.
  • Communicate flexible and reasonable accommodations as people progress to a new normal. Employees should not all be expected to immediately function at full productivity (although some will) but will recover quicker if assigned to simple, concrete tasks. Structure and focus are helpful, and extended time away from work often inhibits recovery. “If you fall off a horse…..get back on a pony.”
  1. Support: Offer practical assistance to the family and those affected.
  1. Link: Identify and link affected employees to additional support resources and refer those most affected to professional mental health services.

How to lead effective suicide postvention was likely not part of most business leaders’ education or training. When these tragedies occur, leaders often engage their EAP to deploy critical incident response experts – behavioral health professionals with unique training in response to tragedies. These consultants will:

  • Consult with the organization’s leadership regarding crisis communication strategies that facilitate resilience
  • Draw circles of impact and shape an appropriate response
  • Let people talk if they wish to do so
  • Identify normal reactions to an abnormal event so that people don’t panic regarding their own reactions
  • Build group support
  • Outline self-help recovery strategies
  • Brainstorm solutions to overcome immediate return-to-function and return-to-life obstacles
  • Assess movement toward either immediate business-as-usual functioning or additional care. Following death by suicide, they will be especially attuned to assess others for risk of self-harm.
  1. Comfort: Support, comfort and promote healthy grieving of the employees who have been affected by the loss. Critical incident response consultants will guide, coach, and script leaders regarding compassionate messaging. Leaders must “give permission” for help-seeking behavior.
  1. Restore: Restore equilibrium and optimal functioning in the workplace.

Sensitively resume a familiar schedule. People do best when their natural rhythms kick back in. Routine. No surprises. One foot in front of the other, just like yesterday.

Facilitate successful completion of familiar tasks. Doing something tangible reduces that sense of powerlessness and helps people focus on what they can do, rather than panic about what they cannot. The structure of doing what one knows how to do is helpful in finding a “new normal.”

  1. Lead: Build and sustain trust and confidence in organizational leadership. The team will never forget the leader’s response. Neither will the leader. Effective provision of both guidance and support will lead to the team feeling cared for in the workplace and result in loyalty and faith in their leadership’s abilities. People will go through the crisis with or without leadership. Lead them.
  1. Honor: Prepare for anniversary reactions and other milestone dates. Mark these dates on the calendar and then respectfully acknowledge them in large or small ways. Honor those affected by the death.
  • Sustain: Move from postvention to suicide prevention.

All involved stakeholders will now own the fact that “it can happen here.” Use that momentum to keep others safer. Following death by suicide, leaders all become “first responders.” Rather than being overwhelmed by the first tragedy, they can prevent others.

A Manager’s Response to Workplace Suicide

There are more than 41,000 suicide deaths per year in the U.S; the majority occur among people of working age. This number alone can dramatically affect the workplace. Add to this number that there are about six people affected, many being coworkers, for every suicide death, and the potential impact to the workplace quickly becomes evident.

Even workplaces with the most comprehensive suicide prevention policies and programs are not immune from a suicide that occurs at work or off-site. Because of the high likelihood that at some point a workplace will experience an employee suicide (or a suicide by a client, vendor or employee family member), it is critical that managers know how to respond and facilitate appropriate “postvention” services designed to help employees and the organization recover and return to normal. Postvention services include psychological first aid, crisis intervention and other support services that managers can facilitate for employees following a workplace suicide or suicide attempt.

In 2013, the Workplace Postvention Task Force of the American Association of Suicidology and the Workplace Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, in partnership with the Carson J Spencer Foundation and Crisis Care Network, wrote, “A Manager’s Guide to Suicide in the Workplace: 10 Action Steps for Dealing with the Aftermath of a Suicide.” The guide has been evaluated by managers in diverse work organizations, including by leaders in human resources, management, safety, occupational health and wellness and employee assistance programs. The overwhelming feedback about the guide was that it is useful; workplace leaders who reviewed the guide but have not yet experienced a workplace suicide plan to keep the guide as a resource.

As the title of the guide implies, it provides managers with 10 specific actions they can take following a workplace suicide. The actions are divided into phases to help the manager work through the acute phase, recovery phase and reconstructing phase. Additional useful tools for managers include how to draft notification memos and prepare external announcements to disseminate to the broader workplace and the media. Some of the most useful tools in the guide include checklists for how to implement each action, descriptions of how to identify roles for managers during the response, instructions for following crisis decision-making flowcharts and templates for drafting crisis communication messages. The overwhelming majority of users said they would recommend this resource to other managers.

This blog is designed to encourage you to look at the guide and consider using it as a resource, should the need arise in your workplace. We also welcome your feedback on suggestions to make the guide more useful to all workplace leaders. Feedback can be sent to the senior program director at the Carson J Spencer Foundation, jess@carsonjspencer.org. With so many working-aged adults dying by suicide each year, managers need to be prepared to deal with such a crisis. This guide provides concrete steps managers can follow after a suicide to psychologically support their workforce and provide leadership to the work organization as they work to return quickly to normal operations.

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.