Suicide has a dramatic impact on the workplace in both human and financial terms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2010. There were 38,364 suicides—an average of 105 each day. In addition to the loss of life and suffering of surviving family members, colleagues and friends, the suicides resulted in an estimated $34.6 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.
In addition, for every one suicide, there are 25 attempted suicides. An estimated 8.3 million adults (3.7% of the adult U.S. population) reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year.
We want business leaders to understand that suicide prevention IS a workplace issue, and that they can create an environment where individuals are more likely to reach out for the help they need.
You likely already have employee benefits, such as an employee assistance program (EAP), in place that offer valuable resources for employees and family members in need. Unfortunately, most people who attempt suicide do not reach out to the resources that are available to them.
Simply talking can save lives. (Let’s dispel the myth right here – talking about it does not trigger suicidal thoughts or attempts. When the subject of suicide is treated responsibly in a non-sensational manner, discussion can generate increased awareness and understanding, thereby increasing the chance that the person suffering from suicidal thoughts will seek and receive support and help.) When barriers come down and people seek help for mental illness, as many as 90% can significantly reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
So, specifically, what can you do?
You can begin with a campaign to de-stigmatize mental health issues and to encourage people to seek help. Create a supportive environment where corporate leadership shows that they value physical and emotional health. Convey key messages such as, “It’s a sign of strength to ask for help,” and encourage employees to take talk of suicide seriously, whether in a family member, friend or co-worker.
Many employers are beginning to create greater dialogue on this topic. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention is the public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. The Workplace Task Force of this group, in particular, has developed several public service announcements targeted at employers and organizational leaders. The group has also developed tools to support the workplace in addressing suicide prevention.
For more information, including a comprehensive blueprint for a workplace suicide prevention program, visit the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Workplace Task Force.
For information on an anti-stigma campaign, visit stampoutstigma.com.