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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.

Making Mental Health Your Business

One of the most undertreated and misunderstood mental illnesses in the workplace is depression. The mood disorder is more than a passing feeling and is a major—but treatable—illness. Depression affects all walks of life and even a formerly outstanding employee can be affected. No job title, organization, or personality type is immune.

It is likely that you, and every employee in your place of work, know someone who has struggled with depression, anxiety, alcohol or maybe even an eating disorder.  In fact, it is estimated that about one-third of those with a mental illness are employed. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce (28 million workers ages 18-54) will experience a mental or substance abuse disorder, according to the National Institute on Mental Illness.

How can employers address this issue? Early intervention and prevention programs can be fundamental in preventing progress toward a full-blown disease, controlling symptoms of mental illness and improving outcomes. Anonymous online screenings are an effective way to reach employees who underestimate the effects of their own condition and are unaware of helpful resources. A screening program can also work well for small organizations that lack official employee assistance program (EAP) services. Quality mental health programs for employees can reduce stigma, raise awareness, teach managers how to recognize symptoms and help organizations deal with depression and effectively and compassionately manage employees.

How should employers address mental health in the workplace? Framing prevention efforts in light of nationally recognized days is a great starting point. Oct. 9 is National Depression Screening Day (NDSD), which is a day to promote education and awareness of common mental health disorders. This year, NDSD will focus on viewing and treating mental health with the same gravity as physical health. Your organization may provide free blood pressure screenings, or encourage weight-loss support groups. Treating mental health with the same importance as physical health reinforces that your workplace is one devoted to overall health of your employees.

Encouraging a Mentally Healthy Workplace

In addition to highlighting nationally recognized days, the following are several areas to consider when making your workplace mental health-friendly.

  • Employee wellness programs that incorporate mental health
  • Manager training in mental health workplace issues
  • Support for employees who seek mental health treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave
  • An EAP or other appropriate referral resource
  • Health care that treats mental illness with the same urgency as physical illness
  • Regular communication to employees regarding equal opportunity employment, wellness and similar topics promoting an accepting work environment

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s Workplace Taskforce has additional information and resources. Promoting National Depression Screening Day is a great way to introduce mental health topics with your workforce. From employee morale to the company’s bottom line, mental health can affect all areas of the workplace. When the mental health of one employee is made a priority, the entire organization will benefit.