In Honor of Suicide Prevention Month, Start Talking about it

Posted by: Carolyn Lamparella
Date: September 6, 2019

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide has increased 33 percent since 1999 and is rising especially fast among women and young people. Researchers at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention speculate that “a period of increased stress combined with a lack of a sense of security” may be behind the trend.

Vigilance in the workplace

Employers are in a unique position when it comes to suicide prevention due to the amount of time employees spend on the job. Often an employee in distress will confide in their colleagues before a family member. Therefore, it is essential for employers to train managers and supervisors on recognizing the warning signs for mental health concerns. Most importantly, employees must know what to do if they hear a colleague talking about suicide.

Co-workers may think they can help a colleague who expresses a desire to harm themselves because they “know” the person. They tend to say things like, “Think about your family … think about your kids.” However, when people are depressed and suicidal, they are not thinking rationally. You cannot “talk someone out it.” They need to obtain the proper help to address the deeper mental health concerns.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many cases where a friend or fellow employee believed they alone could talk someone out of suicide, and was tragically incorrect. Employees must be advised to tell someone: their supervisor, employee health, or human resources. They must engage a professional.

What should you do if you are concerned?

If someone you know or work with is behaving in an uncharacteristic manner, consult with human resources personnel, employee health, or your supervisor and tell them your concerns. You don’t have to wait until someone overtly expresses a desire to commit suicide to take action. When it comes to suicide prevention, it’s always better to over-react than to under-react. Some potential warning signs include;

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Researching ways to end their life
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of a support network
  • Working in a high-stress job
  • Experiencing a traumatic loss

Professionals also recommend directly asking an individual you’re concerned about, “Are you planning to kill yourself?” Often people are afraid to pose that question to someone in distress, however, it could be life-saving.

Working toward needed, lasting change

One significant barrier that must be overcome to prevent suicide is the stigma associated with mental health. Often individuals in distress are afraid they will be viewed as weak or experience some type of retaliation if they openly talk about their depression or other emotional concerns. Once again, employers can play an important role in helping to overcome the stigma by creating a culture of psychological safety through training and education about mental health.

A technology company based in Kentucky did so with great success. Leaders made mental health awareness a priority based on the belief that, “mental health impacts a person’s ability to bring their whole selves to the workplace, regardless of whether they are directly or indirectly affected.” They started their effort by forming a group that collaborated with local mental health professionals to create an awareness campaign. The campaign included education, resources for assessing risk and getting support, a custom website, an employee survey, daily emails, videos, workshops, and chats on the firm’s internal social media platform. The results were so positive, the company now offers the program to other companies free of charge.

Stigma can be addressed head-on when company leaders share their own mental health experiences, offer resources, and provide opportunities for employees to talk about their mental health needs and obtain help. This kind of accepting, progressive environment will help employees feel more comfortable reaching out for assistance. And remember, talking openly about suicide may be the most effective prevention strategy.

About the author:
Carolyn Lamparella, EdS, LPC, is program director at Preferred EAP, which provides counseling, consultation, training, and critical incident assistance for employers and their employees. Learn more at


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