The COVID Crisis Brings Workplace Suicide to the Forefront
Written by: Carolyn V. Coarsey. Ph.D.
February 17, 2021
The intention of the Foundation’s series awareness@work is to shed light on how leaders within business organizations are responding to those impacted by a crisis in the workplace. Whether one person (customer, employee, family member) or a group of people are experiencing trauma, many organizations are initiating change in how their employees respond.
Awareness of how distressed people's needs are best met is rising dramatically with the evolution of Care and Special Assistance Teams throughout the world. Once cautioned against approaching a distressed survivor due to liability concerns, many companies today encourage employees to contact them without fear, expressing sorrow, and thereby showing genuine compassion toward the impacted individual.
Responding to needs of crew members, employees and team members is a major focus of the Foundation’s work as this month’s article shows.
The upheaval of our world and the upheaval of our consciousness are one and the same.
-Carl Jung, M.D. (1875-1961)
Swiss Psychiatrist who founded Analytical Psychology
In Bloomberg Businessweek, December 30, 2020, a riveting article entitled The Cruise Ship Suicides, brought attention to a subject that was mostly unknown to the public. Crew suicides, although rare, are not new to those who work with trauma onboard ships. While the topic remained hidden to most of the world, many industry trainers and care team leaders were already addressing suicide prevention for crew members for the past several years. The rarity of the deaths made budgeting for prevention training a challenge. However, issues involving crew members and guests who were unable to disembark due to the pandemic, helped shed further light on the topic and has paved the way for much needed education and training to continue.
Already this year, one major cruise line has released a computer-based training module which will empower each of their employees with information and tools needed to help themselves as well as teammates. The Foundation worked with the learning and development team, as well as Care Team leadership to create the module, customized for the cruise line. The module also includes information specific to the company that helps employees know how to access resources for support within the company and what to do if they suspect a fellow employee may need help.
Workplace Suicide Prevention
If workplaces believe that the mental health symptoms and suicide crises are only due to untreated or misread mental illnesses, they may be engaging in a “state of denial” about their own systemic contribution to the problem.
-Workplace Suicide Prevention
Well in advance of the pandemic which resulted in quarantined guests and crew members on ships, the need for increased attention to suicide prevention in the workplace was already being recognized by many work groups. In June 2018, the Center for Disease Control reported a 30% increase in suicides in half of the states and more than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.
Of great significance to the workplace, 16% of those who died were known to have jobs or financial problems at the time of death. In November 2018, a second CDC report found the suicide rate among the U.S. working age population increased 34% between 2000-2016.
It is important to note that the World Health Organization (WHO) documents similar statistics that show the rise in death by suicide throughout the world. And as such have launched programs to reduce the numbers in various programs in countries around the world.
“Because many adults spend a substantial amount of their time at work, the workplace is an important but underutilized location for suicide prevention. Workplaces could potentially benefit from suicide prevention activities.” See: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6745a1.htm
In 2019, the Workplace Task Force was adopted by the American Association of Suicidology and became the Workplace Suicide Prevention and Postvention Committee. While these efforts were formalized in 2018, well before the pandemic, the need now for prevention and postvention programs is even greater as isolation and anxiety grows in the wake of COVID.
As experts warn us of the increased risks for death by suicide, it is comforting to know that there are resources to help leaders within organizations increase their programs for suicide prevention. While enhancing employee assistance programs and other wellness efforts, the new Workplace Suicide Prevention program adds other resources to help organizations reduce the number of deaths by suicide in their work force.
The following six topics have been identified as Key Areas for a Healthy Workplace: Source: National Mental Health Commission & The Mentally Healthy Workplace Assistance (Australia)
1. Smarter Work Design: More flexibility, greater individual and team input into decision-making harm and hazard reduction.
2. Built Resilience: Training on stress management for high risk jobs using evidence-based approaches, increasing physical activity, and providing opportunities for mentoring and coaching.
3. Support Recovery: Helping employees reintegrate and get support during and after stressful life events and challenges with mental illness, having generous sick leave and accommodations.
4. Build Better Work Culture: Senior leadership engagement, mental health education, zero tolerance for bullying or discrimination, a climate of safety, mental health education, and change management that has open and realistic communication.
5. Early Intervention: Well-being checks, ability to seek help easily and early, evidence-based training for providers, opportunities for peer support.
6. Increase Awareness: Promoting mental health resources, trainings and programs, participating in community and national events and campaigns.
At the Foundation we encourage all of our members to check out workplacesuicideprevention.com and learn more about what is available to help you in your workplace including information about how to gain support from leadership for growing programs within. While It is important to know that help lines are available and growing in number as the needs grow, we believe it is of great importance to learn about the new organization dedicated to Workplace Suicide Prevention.
For more about the Foundation and our programs, please contact Cheri Johnson, email@example.com or visit us at fafonline.org.