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March 18, 2016

Union Pacific Leads on Suicide Prevention

Summary:

Union Pacific Railroad sponsored a company-wide suicide awareness program and touched nearly 10,000 employees in one day.

Photo Courtesy of Roadsidepictures

Suicide is always a difficult topic no matter what the setting. It can be a particularly difficult topic to discuss in the workplace. Employers continually struggle to decide how far to intrude into the emotional life of their employees, though in the U.S. alone the economic burden of major depressive disorders was estimated at $210.5 billion in 2010. Associated breakdown of costs suggest:

  • 45% to 47% attributed to directs costs
  • 5% to suicide-related costs
  • 48% to 50% to workplace costs

Of course, the financial costs pale in comparison with the emotional impact the death of a co–worker can have in the workplace.

The rail industry workforce is highly representative of “men in the middle years,” the age group known to be prone to suicide. 80% to 90% of the workforce is men, and 35% to 40% are veterans. Additionally, witnessing suicide-by-train is an all-too-frequent trauma for rail workers.

To address the problem of suicide in the work place, Union Pacific Railroad sponsored a company-wide suicide awareness and roll-out on Sept. 10, 2015. The day’s activities paralleled the world-wide Suicide Prevention Day.

See Also: 6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides

Making personal contact with so many employees and leaving behind literature was no easy task but worth the effort of nearly 200 volunteers throughout the UP system. Volunteers met their fellow employees as they reported to work or left work on Sept. 10. The volunteers, most of whom are part of the Peer Support and Operation Red Block teams, handed out wallet-size cards about suicide and also gave employees a key chain with the inspirational message, “Stay Connected.” Together, both groups estimated they touched nearly 10,000 employees on the day. “The volunteers were overwhelmed by the personal stories they heard throughout the day about how other UP employees had been impacted by suicide,”, said Harry Stewart, manager of Peers Support programs.

Peer-to-peer programs are vital to efforts like suicide prevention because peers have strong credibility  with their co-workers, as many have lived experiences to share with others that normalize the stigma attached to many of life’s most pressing problems, including suicide.

“Coaching and encouraging their fellow employees on where to go for help when life gets tough can make a big impact,” stated Matt Schumacher, system coordinator for Operation Red Block at UP.

UP plans to make Suicide Prevention Day an annual event and hopes to touch more employees in 2016 with messages of hope and caring and the all-important bridge to resources for help.

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About the Author

Mark Jones, PhD is the director of the Employee Assistance Program at Union Pacific Railroad located in Omaha, Nebraska. Jones has been the EAP director at UPRR since 2005. Jones’s job duties at UPRR include overseeing a service delivery model covering 50,000 employees and their dependents.

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