Developing a workplace suicide prevention program: '... for most workplaces, the issue of suicide and suicidal behavior is not yet on the radar.'.

Author:Spencer-Thomas, Sally
Position:Feature article

The workplace is the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the 30,000 people who kill themselves each year in the United States. A co-worker's suicide has a deep, disturbing impact on workmates. For managers, such tragedies pose challenges that no one covered in management school (Shellenbarger, 2001).

While managers often feel responsible for the well-being of the people they supervise, very few have been given any substantial training in how to identify people in a suicide crisis and link those who are struggling to lifesaving care. EAPs can play a critical role in closing this gap, not just by addressing the crisis, but also by helping workplaces develop a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, intervention, and "postvention."

About every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide, and roughly every minute someone attempts suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention & Suicide Prevention Resource Center, 2010). Nearly every one of these individuals is currently (or was recently in) the workforce --or is loved by someone who is employed--and yet for most workplaces, the issue of suicide and suicidal behavior is not yet on the radar.

Suicide among working-age people is a growing problem. A five-year analysis of the nation's death rates released by the CDC found that the suicide rate among 45- to 54-year-olds increased 20% from 1999 to 2004, a larger increase than was found for any other age group during the same period (rates for youth and the elderly are decreasing) (Barber, n.d., Cohen, 2008). The working-age population carries the burden of suicide.

While suicide prevention may seem to be too intensive an endeavor for workplaces to take on, there are many prevention strategies that do not take much effort, but which yield tremendous results. The following are some low-cost, yet high-impact strategies EAPs can use to promote mental health and prevent suicide.

* Promote the suicide prevention lifeline. One of the best ways to increase capacity for suicide prevention in the workplace is to promote the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). This free resource is available to both employees in crisis (and those trying to support them) 24/7. The line connects individuals to local crisis call centers and is answered by certified volunteers, most of whom have had more training and experience in de-escalating suicidal behavior than many mental health professionals.

* Participate in National Screening Days. Screening...

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