Liz Sheffield

Promoting Suicide Prevention Awareness in the Workplace

Every day at work, people ask their colleagues, “How are you?”

They usually know the response before they hear it: “I’m fine, thanks.”

People are quick to say they’re fine, but that’s no guarantee that they are. Approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences a mental illness each year. The issue is so severe that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country,

Employers should regularly reevaluate their support of employees facing mental health issues and take steps to raise suicide prevention awareness in the workplace.

How Can You Tell an Employee Is Struggling?

Every person dealing with depression will have a unique set of symptoms. However, common suicide warning signs include:

  • Sad, anxious or hopeless moods.
  • Uncontrollable rage or anger.
  • Reduced interest in common activities.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
  • Fatigue or insomnia.

Colleagues and managers may not recognize these symptoms. Even an employee who’s suffering might not put the pieces together. Consider educating your workforce using mental health training program such as Mental Health First Aid and resources like this mental health screening tool. Among other things, programs like these help raise awareness of the symptoms of mood disorders. It’s important to describe how the symptoms may manifest in the workplace — for example, as changes in work habits, demeanor or attendance. Once your employees can confidently spot when something may be wrong, lay out guidelines for what they should do to help others experiencing emotional struggles.

How Employers Can Support Employees’ Mental Well-Being

Employees spend many of their waking hours at work. This puts employers in a unique position — providing an opportunity both to spot someone who’s struggling with poor mental health and to reinforce the importance of managing mental health to your staff. Employees in a supportive work environment are more likely to seek help for mental health conditions.

After all, mental health issues have carried a stigma. You can normalize mental health conversations by including a wide range of mental health concerns in your workplace wellness program. Offer workshops or lunchtime learning sessions that address mental health topics respectfully, in the same way you discuss treating heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions. Don’t be tempted to relegate suicide prevention awareness to an annual meeting; make discussing mental health part of the organization’s regular health conversations.

Communicate Available Resources

In your wellness newsletter or other health-related communications, include information about suicide hotlines, forms of online support and mental health benefits such as behavioral health counseling, telemedicine and any relevant employee assistance plan offerings. Highlight options and resources to make accessing help easier.

One easy change that can bring exposure to mental health in the workplace is to offer mental health days alongside sick days. This simple change in terminology reduces stigma in the workplace and treats mental well-being as part of employees’ overall health.

Rather than waiting to face the personal, health and financial costs of unaddressed mental health issues, proactive employers are taking steps to normalize treatment for mental health issues. With open communication, progressive policies and health plans that meet a variety of needs, these employers not only make a difference but demonstrate that they genuinely care about their employees’ well-being.

Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.