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Suicide Prevention & Awareness: A Re-call to Action in the Workplace

Roughly 130 individuals die by suicide each day.

The ripple effect of one individual dying by suicide is consequential, personally affecting an estimated 115 individuals on average. And while many of us have been touched by suicide in some way in our personal lives, we might not have considered the impact on the workplace. Employees spend a majority of their waking hours at work, and they do not experience distress in a vacuum.

Each year, National Suicide Prevention Week is observed to remember those who have been affected by suicide, raise awareness, and encourage action to connect individuals to care. The workplace has a major role to play in helping to prevent death by suicide.

Despite substantial efforts to increase awareness around mental health concerns, death by suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in America.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the statistics around mental health challenges have been hard to miss. Roughly 75% of employees report experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition in the past year, and the majority of those employees indicated that at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health as well! While these statistics are bleak, there is some positive news to report:

  • The federal government has taken strides to address the mental health crisis facing our country. One notable action was the implementation of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in July of 2022 that now replaces the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, helping to break down barriers for individuals needing help. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call or text with trained counselors and are connected to resources.
  • Many employers have taken responsibility and provided more support for their employees’ mental health. In recent studies, 9 out of 10 employers report planning to increase mental health support in their organizations.

Take heart! We are headed in the right direction. But– we are not there yet.

When the pandemic hit, we saw employers attempting to provide their employees with something—anything, to help. Now, we are in a much different situation. Employees are demanding employers to do the right thing, and business performance is at stake.

Let’s take a brief step back. By in large, mental health challenges did not start with the pandemic, the political unrest of our time, or social media … mental health challenges have always been a part of the human experience. Yet, the demands that we now face cannot be brushed aside. Unmanaged mental illness can have detrimental impacts, and ultimately can lead to death by suicide. Employers must recognize that all employees have to manage their mental health and get intentional about how to provide effective support.

As efforts increase nationally to bridge the gaps in care for mental health challenges and prevent death by suicide, it is imperative that employers take a strategic, multifaceted approach to mental health for their workforce. Effective mental health strategies address organizational policies, environmental and cultural factors, promote mental wellness, and expand access to care for anybody who needs it. As we observe National Suicide Prevention Week this September, we challenge employers to re-focus on this issue in order to make a greater impact on the mental health of their employees.

There are several ways employers can take action against death by suicide now:

Create work environments that are supportive and inclusive.

While this may sound daunting, it does not have to be. Consider your workplace policies and determine where changes might be made to promote balance in your employees’ lives. Encourage your employees to share their stories, listen to their experiences, and respond with empathy to work towards building a culture of respect. Normalizing mental health issues can help foster a more open and inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable acknowledging their struggles and accepting support.

Employ a mental health survey to gauge needs across the organization.

Addressing mental health can seem like an overwhelming undertaking. Start by getting a pulse on your employees' mental health so that you can respond appropriately to their needs. Ask questions about top stressors, everyday needs, and access to care.

Promote awareness to crush the stigma of seeking help.

Addressing stigma is most effective when it begins with leadership. Leadership participation can have a trickle-down effect, transforming the culture of an organization. Don’t know where to start? A World Without Suicide, a trusted partner of OneDigital, offers leadership training, employee education, and helps develop corporate policies to ensure employees know the resources available and how to handle a peer that might be struggling. Check out this Stigma-Free Workplace Blueprint.

Equip employees with mental wellness support.

100% of employees need mental wellness support. Provide employees with daily support to help prevent the development of more critical mental health issues. Partnering with a vendor solution to offer mindfulness, meditation, resiliency, and brain training can be an effective way to boost prevention. But remember, placing a vendor is not enough. To truly see success, revamp your strategy to engage employees and make sure to measure the impact of any solution you put in place.

Reassess current mental health care offerings.

Traditional EAPs simply do not cut it, seeing less than a 5% utilization rate on average. Employees need easy and timely access to quality care across the mental health spectrum. Many solutions offer care for individuals with a range of mental health needs by providing access to digital or in-person therapy and crisis intervention. But don’t stop there—take a holistic approach and invest in benefits and resources that support an employee's total wellbeing.

Create a plan to address the aftermath of death by suicide.

Suicide loss survivors experience a range of emotions. By taking a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach, leadership can create a postvention plan, ensuring that leaders are equipped to provide appropriate support when death by suicide affects the workplace. A few examples can include increasing access to bereavement counseling and other important resources, as well as extended time off for affected employees.

How will your organization observe National Suicide Awareness Week this September? Just one tangible action towards addressing mental health can go a long way in spreading awareness and ultimately preventing future deaths by suicide.

Looking to learn more about how to recognize and raise awareness around suicide within your workforce? Visit the blog: Debunking the Suicide Taboo: Empowering the Workplace to Communicate Openly.