Tag Archives: employee assistance program

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.

Broader Approach to Workplace Violence

With the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA, fresh on people’s minds, workplace violence has received major media coverage, but little to no attention is paid to deaths by suicide even though rates in the U.S. have gone up considerably in recent years. Suicides claim an average of 36,000 lives annually, and, while most people take their lives in or near home, suicide on the job is also increasing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workplace suicides rose to 282 in 2013, the highest level since the numbers have been reported. In 2014, the suicide rate went down slightly to 271, but that is still the second highest level. The annual average number of suicides deaths that occurred at work during the time period 2003 – 2014 is 237, for a total of 2,848. Since 2007, the numbers have been above the average.

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Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries

The rise in suicide rates at work is even more significant given that overall homicides in the workplace have been steadily decreasing since the mid-’90s.

The obvious question is: Why is this startling rise in suicide rates at work occurring?

“The reasons for suicide are complex, no matter where they take place,” said Christine Montier, CMO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Usually, many factors are at play.”

Many suicide prevention experts linked the increase in one way or another to the Great Recession. I believe the recession played a major role because it put a triple whammy on people. Housing, which has traditionally been the major investment and retirement source for Americans, was in the toilet. Foreclosures were at an all-time high. Companies were laying off people, and job prospects were slim.

I believe that many working people experienced daily stress about employment. Every day, they might be laid off. Many were severely overworked because they needed to pick up the slack caused by reductions in workforces. They faced continuous fear of taking time off for vacations or illness and had few options to leave because jobs elsewhere were scarce.

Put all these issues in the pot together, and some people could not see their way out of their dilemma except through suicide.

Researchers in a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suspect that suicides occur at work because the perpetrators wanted to protect family and friends from discovering their bodies.

In the midst of the fear of terrorist attacks and active shooting incidents, organizations are significantly challenged in how to deal with the spectrum of violence they may face. However, it is critical that organizations not shy away from addressing these issues and muster the resources to engage their employees.

Managers need clear guidelines on healthy approaches to manage and prevent violence in the multiple forms it can take. Two industries that have taken the issue of suicides at work head-on are construction and law enforcement.

What can management do?

Promote awareness

Stop thinking and acting like “it couldn’t happen at your company.Provide regular communications through the channels that are most effective in your company regarding the potential warning signs that employees or others are at risk of acting in a violent manner. See a list of the classic early warning signs of workplace violence here. Many of the signs are also telltale signs symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior.

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., co-founder of Working Minds, a Colorado-based workplace-suicide-prevention organization, described a giveaway that’s more obvious than one might suspect: The employee will tell you.

When contemplating suicide, a person can be entirely consumed by the thought, she said. The problem may be coded in conversation—the individual may talk about death often, for instance.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, it’s important to bite the bullet and ask the awkward questions. “It is very hard to resist a human who is coming at you with compassion,” Spencer-Thomas observed. She suggests that HR professionals frame their questions in an understanding manner, giving the employee the opportunity to explain his or her condition. Statements such as, “I’ve noticed that …,” “It’s understandable given …,” and “I’m wondering if it’s true for you…” should be followed by a nonjudgmental statement.

Promote resources available to help employees

If your firm has an employee assistance program (EAP) or your healthcare provider offers counseling service, make sure that managers are trained about the program and skilled in how to make an effective employee referral. If your employee usage rates are below your industry average, you need to assess why and take action to increase usage. Talking to a professional counselor can make a big difference to a troubled employee.

If your firm does not offer an EAP, then identify community resources that can assist your employees and keep the list current.

HR should also have a strategy to deal with the devastating impact of a homicide or suicide at work.

I believe the time has come for executives to take a comprehensive approach to violence that occurs in the workplace and especially to bring mental health and suicide issues out of the closet into mainstream workplace conversations. We are past the point where organizations can think of suicide as a dirty little secret and hope it will go away. The time has come for meaningful action.

Don’t wait until something happens and people lose their lives. If you really mean that your employees are your most important asset, now is the time to step up.

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.

6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides

This year, for World Suicide Prevention Day, the theme is “Reaching Out to Save Lives” – a message all employers can use to let people know that everyone can play a role in suicide prevention. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Task Force members and the organizations they serve offer the top six things workplaces can do during the month of September to make prevention a health and safety priority:

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  1. Offer a Leadership Proclamation: “Not Another Life to Lose”

Members of executive leadership can take bold and visible positions declaring suicide prevention and mental health promotion critical workplace concerns. This proclamation can be in the form of a newsletter to employees or a video on a website.

  1. Highlight Mental Health Resources

Host a brown bag lunch program each day for the week. Invite employee assistance program (EAP) representatives or other local mental health professionals to offer educational session on stress, work-life balance, coping with depression or other related topics.

Offer a mental health fair where local suicide prevention, mental health or other wellness resources share more information and employees get a “passport” stamped for each one they visit. Completed passports go into a drawing for a prize.

Send resources to employees such as:

  1. Launch a Mental Wellness Task Force

A true comprehensive and sustained public health approach to prevention will take more than an awareness week or one-time training. To create significant change, a more strategic approach is needed. Start by pulling together a small group of stakeholders – people whose job titles reflect some level of relevance to this issue (i.e., wellness, HR, risk management, safety) and others who are passionate about prevention because it has touched their lives personally. Their task? To identify culturally relevant areas of strength and vulnerability for suicide within the organization and to develop a strategic approach to change.

Here are some resources:

  1. Leverage Social Media

During this week, companies can join the international conversation by posting on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Sample posts:
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] makes #suicideprevention a health and safety priority #WSPD15
    • [Name of company or Twitter handle] We are doing our part to #preventsuicide during #NSPW. Everyone can play a role!
  • Hashtags:
    • National Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 7-13)
      • #NSPW
      • #NSPW15
      • #SuicidePrevention
    • World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10)
      • #WSPD
      • #WSPD15
    • Workplace
      • #WorkplaceMH
      • #WorkingMinds
    • Guidelines on social media and mental health.
  1. Honor Suicide Loss With Candle-Lighting Ceremony

How companies respond to the aftermath of suicide matters greatly. Grief and trauma support, thoughtful communication and compassionate leadership can help a workforce make the transition from immobilization to a bonded community.

Here are some resources:

  1. Donate to or Volunteer for Local or National Suicide Prevention Organizations

Engaging in community prevention efforts is a great way for employees to give back and to get to know the local resources available. Corporate investments in prevention programs and research will help us get ahead of the problem. Get involved!

Here are some resources:

Breaking the Silence on Mental Health

Shh, it’s time for another round of “let’s discuss depression or suicide in the workplace.” That’s right, shh. After all, we aren’t supposed to discuss these issues. If we do, someone else may try to commit suicide. If we hush up the problem, maybe it will go away.

So, help me to understand why we tolerate this silence with mental illness and not with any other medical condition. I think it is because mental health is a bit more mysterious and scarier than most other conditions.

But mental health does account for a large percentage of the costs related to lost productivity ($51 billion). It generates direct costs of treatment of $26 billion a year[1] — and “absence, disability and lost productivity related to mental illness cost employers more than four times the cost of employee medical treatment.”[2]

We need to get over our fear and get the discussions out in the open. Only then will we have a chance to break the cycle.

The goal of breaking the silence is already occurring on the high school level and is showing results. I realize that this is a different population, teen-agers, but talking about it really does matter in prevention. This most recently occurred in a high school in Crystal Lake, Ill., after two teen-age friends took their lives. The school and community leaders made a point of getting information to other students about the warning signs so that they could possibly identify those in danger and encouraged parents to talk with their teens about their grief. Leaders also provided grief counselors onsite and gave the students different options for grieving, which included holding vigils, providing groups and allowing for other forums of expression.

This is an excellent model that can be adapted for the workplace in partnership with your employee assistance program (EAP). Here are some things employers can do for their workplaces after a suicide:

  • Openly discuss suicide and offer grief groups to anyone directly or indirectly involved with the people who took their lives. Make it okay to talk about the suicide. For more information on steps employers might take, go to “A Manager’s Guide to Suicide Postvention in the Workplace.”
  • Provide information about the warning signs so that employees can help identify others who might be at risk. Make sure that employees and their family members get information about resources that they can access for themselves, their family members or other co-workers. And stress the confidential nature of these sources. A great first step is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK (8255)).

The best defense, however, is a good offense. To encourage prevention, I suggest the following:

  • Create a “mental health/wellness” friendly workplace that involves openly discussing mental health and stress and making sure that employees know that there is confidential help available.
  • Provide employees and managers with training on signs of depression, anxiety, etc. and encourage them to seek help if they or a colleague is showing any of these signs.
  • Have your EAP visible through consistent promotional efforts using print, email and social media.
  • Make sure that the company’s benefits plans have good mental health coverage.

I have been lucky enough to have spent the last 36 years in the field helping individuals and organizations become more open to dealing with psychological issues that may interfere with their professional or personal growth. And I have been amazed at how successful treatment can be when the issue is confronted head-on.

As leaders in the insurance industry, those of you who subscribe to this blog are trusted advisers to the leadership and decision makers in organizations of all kinds. I therefore implore you to use these relationships to encourage them to face mental health in an open and forthright manner. Only when people are able to openly seek out help for mental health related concerns in the same manner that they seek out medical treatment for other issues will we be successful.

[1] Managed Care Magazine (2006, Spring) Depression in the Workplace Cost Employers Billions Each Year: Employers Take Lead in Fighting Depression.

[2] Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, A Mentally Healthy Workforce—It’s Good for Business, (2006), www.workplacementalhealth.org.