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Suicide Awareness – Workplace Strategies for Employers

November 15, 2019

By Kristen Cifolelli, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE 

According to federal data, suicide rates in the United States have recently hit their highest rate since World War II.  There has been a 33% increase just since 1999.  High rates of stress, pressures, isolation factors of social media use, and opioid abuse are some of the larger contributing factors.

While suicide rates in general have been rising, also have the instances of employees ending their lives at work.  The number of workplace suicides reached an all-time high of 291 in 2016.  Right here in Michigan, a Ford employee working at the Woodhaven Stamping Plant shot and killed himself inside the plant after receiving a warning over attendance.  At Apple’s Cupertino’s headquarters in April 2016, an employee committed suicide in one of the organization’s conference rooms, and a 23-year-old accountant jumped to his death from the roof of PriceWaterhouseCooper’s London office.

What can organizations do to raise awareness and help employees?  Employers need to understand their impact on mental health and how to normalize conversations and provide support for mental health issues before they reach a crises level.  Some of things employers can do include:

Be aware of factors that increase suicide risk

  • Prior suicide attempts

  • Suicide by someone close

  • Problematic substance use

  • Mental illnesses such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, etc.

  • Access to lethal drugs, weapons, or other means

  • Stigma that discourages employees from asking for help

  • Feelings of isolation due to actual or perceived discrimination related to race, sexual orientation, disability, gender, etc.

Provide training

  • Suicide awareness training – provide training to appropriate individuals within the organization.  Managers should become familiar with common warning signs of suicide which can include major change in personality, sharp decline in personal hygiene, talk of killing themselves or feeling hopeless, depression, anxiety, withdrawing from activities, and isolating family, friends and co-workers.

  • Interpersonal and competency training – help employees develop stress management and coping skills in order to more effectively deal with problems.

  • Raise awareness of organizational and community supports – such as the company EAP, help through Human Resources, crisis support lines, and mental health agencies.

  • Resolve workplace issues – focus on a practice of resolving workplace issues quickly and effectively.

Educate and support employees

  • Ensure your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP) provides appropriate support and counseling services to those who may have thoughts of suicide.

  • Provide education to help recognize mental health problems, including warning signs of suicide.

  • Establish programs that reward mental wellness.

  • Develop an inclusive workplace environment where diversity is welcomed, supported, and protected for all employees.

  • Avoid marginalizing people most in need of support such as those who are in crisis, undergoing difficult life changes, or experiencing mental health issues.

  • Create a caring work environment in which co-workers support each other.

  • Promote listening and interpersonal skills to help employees improve their relationships.

  • Eliminate stigma related to mental health issues so that all employees feel safe asking for help.

In order to assist employers, The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has information sheets available online: The Role of Managers in Preventing Suicide and The Role of Co-Workers in Preventing Suicide. Below are additional resources.  There is no foolproof way of telling whether someone may be thinking of taking his or her life, but by taking proactive steps to raise awareness and educate the workforce, employers can help their employees find professional assistance.

Resources for Suicide Prevention



National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health–Stress at Work


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–Suicide Prevention

The National Council for Suicide Prevention

American Association of Suicidology

National Alliance on Mental Illness

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