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Just one year ago, within two days, the world lost two famous, intelligent and beloved people – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. They each took their own lives on June 6 and 8, 2018, respectively. We can never know the mental pain and anguish they were suffering at the time, but we can mourn the loss of their lives.

Why talk about something so sad? Because if we don’t talk about it, we are overlooking something that affects everyone in the workplace. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “Suicide and suicide attempts cost the nation approximately $70 billion per year in lifetime medical and work-loss costs….”

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) we learn that suicide killed 275 people in the workplace in 2017. that’s more than fires and explosions, inhalation of hazardous materials, electrocutions, or temperature extremes. Suicides on their own would end up being the fifth leading cause of workplace fatalities if they weren’t part of the “violence” category.

Here are a few more suicide statistics:
  • 47,000 people committed suicide in 2017.
  • It is estimated that one person commits suicide every 12 minutes.
  • The suicide rate has risen 33% since 1999.
  • Between 2012 – 2015, suicide rates were highest for males in the construction and extraction industries (CDC).
But, even knowing all that, suicide is a seldom mentioned topic. It’s taboo, and the stigma often keeps the subject out of polite conversation. But every expert from the American Psychological Association (APA), OSHA, the CDC, and many others say that keeping silent about suicide is the wrong thing to do. It is an important topic of discussion. Speaking about it can help.
In fact, it’s important to go beyond just mentioning suicide. When you do talk about it, it’s important to go beyond mental health to other factors that can contribute to suicide, including job strain, sleep disruption, bullying or harassment and other workplace and environmental stressors. Not everyone who is considering suicide is mentally ill, but they are mentally or emotionally stressed to the point where they can’t see other options.
We need to talk about some of the risk factors. A few of them are:
  • Loss of relationship(s).
  • Bullying.
  • Job or financial loss.
  • A lack of social support and a sense of isolation.
  • Alcohol and substance abuse.
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies.
  • Major physical illnesses.
  • Sense of hopelessness.
  • A family history of suicide.
How can we help?
First, talk to your coworkers. Learn about them. Show you are interested in them and their lives. When they feel that someone cares, they may open up about what they are feeling and going through. You might hear or observe some of these warning signs that someone is seriously considering suicide:
  • Feeling worthless and that the “world would be better” without them in it.
  • Feeling trapped, hopeless or in unbearable pain.
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Anxiousness, agitation or recklessness.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Mood swings, especially showing rage.
Know the options. Does your workplace offer crisis counseling or have an employee assistance plan? If you have listened to the person who is considering suicide, then maybe they will listen to you. Offer your support. Offer to take them to a counselor and then wait for them to drive them home. Show them that you care.
We try to train our workers to look for hazards in the workplace. We should also train them to look for signs and symptoms of the potential for suicide in a coworker or even themselves. And we need to break the stigma and talk about it. OSHA has done this. In a recent newsletter, OSHA announced their new webpage for suicide prevention and workplace stress. It is linked to the right.
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