The need to reach out and reduce the number of attempted and completed suicides is compelling. A comprehensive prevention initiative can reduce suicide and attempted suicide, promoting a healthier and more productive workforce. As your behavioral health partner, we want to help you create the environment in which such an effort can succeed by enlisting the support of senior management and other influencers within the organization.
With a strong EAP in place, you have already provided a valuable resource for employees and family members to reach out and get the help that they need. Unfortunately, most people who attempt suicide do not reach out to the resources that are available to them.
A strong outreach initiative can make a difference. As your EAP partner, ValueOptions will collaborate with you to provide a variety of tools to support you in this prevention effort.
Prepare to do some myth busting
As you begin to reach out to enlist the support of influencers within your organization, you may encounter some resistance from colleagues who believe the myth that asking someone about suicidal thoughts may trigger the act. This is simply not true: Talking about suicide with a suicidal person does not give him the idea. In fact, you can assure senior management and team members that talking openly about suicidal thoughts is one of the best suggestions for approaching the situation. Experts advise that when the subject of suicide is treated responsibly in a nonsensational manner, it can generate increased awareness and understanding, thereby increasing the chance that the person suffering from suicidal thoughts will seek and receive support and help. Arm yourself with facts from the “About Suicide” section on this CD.
Enlist senior management support
Commitment to reaching those in need—employees, family members, friends—in a variety of ways is critical. While ValueOptions has crafted the prevention and communication tools, the success of the outreach program requires strong support from senior management as well as corporate communications or human resources to enable broad communications efforts. With senior management support, the initiative takes on a more prominent role within an organization and engenders cooperation from all levels. We encourage you to adopt an aggressive approach to dealing with this important issue. To support your efforts, we’ve created these tools:
PP Suicide Prevention Presentation to Senior Management
M Sample Memo From Senior Management
Incorporate policy language
It is important to develop and communicate clear policies and procedures related to suicide, violence and management referrals to EAP . The following is sample language for various policies that reference suicide:
Department of Human Resource Management
Policy Title: Workplace Violence Policy
Definition of “Workplace Violence”
Any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the workplace by employees or third parties. It includes, but is not limited to, beating, stabbing, suicide, shooting, rape, attempted suicide, psychological trauma such as threats, obscene phone calls, an intimidating presence, and harassment of any nature such as stalking, shouting or swearing.
Establish a workgroup
Critical to the success of the program is the formation of an interdisciplinary workgroup. The function of this group is not only to create a suicide prevention program for your organization, but also to meet regularly to continuously evaluate the program, discuss any known changes that may be impacting utilization (e.g., layoffs, mergers, expansion, or major HR policy changes), trends and program developments/enhancements.
The number of participants within the suicide prevention workgroup will vary depending upon the size of the organization. Ideally, participation should include a cross representation of employees within the organization. This may include representatives from benefits, human resources, the union(s)—if applicable, management, safety, occupational health and the general employee population. The goal when forming the workgroup is to identify individuals who are interested and willing to be internal advocates and champions of the suicide prevention program. ValueOptions also can participate in your workgroup, generally through your account manager.
Reinforce the role of supervisors
Supervisors have a key role in identifying employees who may benefit from a referral to the EAP. Teaching them to recognize the following danger signs for suicide is important:
D – Depression. An estimated 2 percent to 15 percent of persons who have been diagnosed with major depression die by suicide, according to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Supervisors should watch for signs of depression—in particular, extreme feelings of hopelessness, despair and worthlessness.
A – Alcohol and drugs. According to the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, between 40 percent and 60 percent of those who die by suicide are intoxicated at the time of death. Alcohol is a depressant and it reduces judgment and impulse control—a lethal combination for someone who is considering self-harm.
N – Negativity. When overwhelmed by depression, a person’s perception is impaired, leading her to feel powerless, helpless and easily overwhelmed. Obstacles that normally appear easy to resolve now seem insurmountable.
G – Giving possessions away. Frequently, those with suicidal plans activate a “living will” by allocating cherished objects, activities and relationships to others.
E – Estrangement. Uncharacteristic isolation from co-workers or withdrawal from group activities is a symptom of depression, and also serves as a means of distancing a person from the pain of ultimate separation.
R – Revenge. Many suicide notes are hostile. Suicide often has been described as “misdirected homicide,” and frequently homicide and suicide occur together. Suicide risk is elevated when the person expresses anger without regard to consequences to self and others.
When behavioral changes such as those listed above interfere with an employee’s ability to perform job functions, the supervisor may recommend an EAP assessment to determine if emotional or psychological factors are causing these behavior changes. Also, it is important to note that some individuals who have resolved in their minds that suicide is the only alternative to their problems may demonstrate a reversal of the aforementioned behaviors; they may appear euphoric and perhaps less depressed just prior to an act of suicide.
Supervisors also may be aware of personal struggles an employee is facing, such as divorce, death in the family, financial pressures or legal problems. While concerns about these situations may not immediately cause job performance deterioration, the supervisor may informally remind the employee of the EAP’s availability to assist in dealing with life problems.
Early intervention, whether based on job performance issues or on an informal reminder, can help employees access help before they become overwhelmed and despairing about their situation. By training supervisors to use the EAP as a resource both for managing job performance deterioration and for offering assistance to employees with known personal problems, the organization supports outreach efforts to intervene with employees who may be at risk for suicide.
“Creating a Communication Strategy” includes sections titled “Guiding Principles,” “Tools” and “Sample Timeline” to help the workgroup plan its outreach to supervisors and employees.