How Your Workplace Can Actually Prevent Suicide
Yes, you read right. Your workplace can become a protective environment and actually prevent suicide. Making changes to our environments can increase healthy behaviors, including seeking help and preventing suicide, and your workplace is actually an amazing place to intervene.
Settings where groups of people with high rates of suicide live and work are ideal for implementing programs, practices and policies to safeguard against suicide (CDC, 2017, ref. 1).
Lifesaving Workplace Policies
Your organizational policies have an incredible amount of influence on your workplace culture.
Developing supportive policies can:
- Change Social Norms
- Encourage Help-Seeking Behaviors
- Promote Prosocial Behaviors
- Demonstrate Mental and Physical Health Values
- Diminish Mental Health Stigma and Risk Factors for Suicide
- Foster a Safe Physical Environment
- Positively Impact Organizational Morale
It’s important to understand and appreciate that suicide, mental illness, and medical health issues are not exclusively personal problems. Health and wellness are a larger community-wide concern that impacts your entire team and in reality, our whole human population. Integrating supportive policies in your work environment demonstrates the much-needed shift from individualistic suffering, shame, and isolation to a collectivistic effort, influence, and responsibility.
"Health and wellness are a larger community-wide concern that impacts your entire team and in reality, our whole human population."
Your organization can utilize the following policies to foster a supportive organizational culture that effectively prevents and decreases suicide (CDC, 2017):
- Provide routine training for supervisors, managers and all staff to improve competencies in identifying suicidal risks.
- Routinely train supervisors, managers and all staff to improve use and awareness of the organization’s existing resources.
- Implement educational campaigns to improve staff awareness and help-seeking behaviors.
- Use a top-down approach with leaders as role models and agents of change.
- Establish expectations for behaviors related to awareness of suicide risk (aka what to do if risky behaviors are identified).
- Develop all staff’s mental health knowledge and skills through ongoing education and training.
- Utilize outcome measures to track and investigate every suicide.
Health and suicide prevention is not a one-time consideration. Integrate lifesaving education and training into your organization’s policies and develop procedures about how to identify, intervene, and track in advance. The really tricky aspect of prevention that most people seem to struggle with is taking the time, energy, and resources to implement programs before a crisis or devastating incident.
Although organizations may know their staff demographics and industry match the groups of people who have high rates of suicide, implementing needed prevention programs in their organization commonly gets neglected. Such organizations are then left with devastating loss of life, emotional hardship, and challenged organizational morale, not to mention diminished productivity and financial consequences.
"Although organizations may know their staff demographics and industry match the groups of people who have high rates of suicide, implementing needed prevention programs in their organization commonly gets neglected."
Take a look at the surprising impact of the United States Air Force Suicide Prevention Program:
Safe Physical Environments
Even making changes to your organization’s physical environment can have a powerful impact on your team’s safety and wellbeing. Some may or may not apply to your specific organization, but overall here are environmental changes that have been shown to actually prevent harmful behavior and reduce suicide rates (CDC, 2017):
- Limiting excessive use of alcohol.
- Erecting barriers or limiting access to balconies, rooftops, bridges, and cliffs. Installing supportive and informational signs and telephones to encourage help seeking behaviors.
- Reducing or eliminating access to highly lethal means (firearms, items used for hanging or suffocation, dangerous heights).
- Increasing the time and difficulty to accessing lethal means.
- If firearms are in the environment, store firearms in a locked and secure place, unloaded and separate from the ammunition. Provide education and counseling regarding storing firearms in a gun safe or lock box.
- Keep medications in a locked and secure location away from those who have made prior suicide attempts or may be at risk for suicide.
Evidence for limiting alcohol:
When it comes to deciding where to establish your physical building (or if you’re relocating) consider avoiding locations with a great density of bars. High bar density locations are related to greater suicide and suicide attempts, particularly in rural areas (ref. 2). New startups and co-working spaces are integrating fun social spaces within their workspace. So, if beer on tap is included in your office space, manage “happy hours” with specific timeframes and establish tap shut off times.
Some office spaces also offer staff access to beautiful rooftops and balconies. A serene outdoor space with a gorgeous view is an amazing amenity for your workforce. Completely discontinuing this unique benefit may not be necessary. Simply managing use of these spaces with keycard access, specific hours of use, and protective walls and barriers to reach the edges of the building would be beneficial. Similar to other public spaces, security cameras and safety staff presence may also be useful in these areas. If your staff do have access to rooftops and balconies, you may want to consider emphasizing the social and welcoming aspect of the space with a peaceful garden design, seating areas, and friendly messaging about your organization’s wellness events and EAP services.
The unexpected evidence.
The time between deciding to act and attempt suicide can be as short as 5 to 10 minutes (ref. 3,4) and individuals attempting to commit suicide don’t tend to try to find alternative methods when a highly lethal method is unavailable or difficult to access (ref. 5,6). So, it may seem minimal but slowing down a person’s process and adding some barriers in the environment can truly be lifesaving.
Making these physical changes are exceptionally imperative during times of crisis or transition (ref. 7-12).
Here are real life examples.
The case studies below demonstrate how the environmental changes listed above provided lifesaving prevention outcomes:
With most of our time spent at work, it is the ideal environment to proactively address and improve our health, wellbeing, and quality of life. The old philosophy of leaving your “personal life” at the door has continuously proven faulty, impractical, and naïve. Get ahead, evolve as an organization, and take the time now to create and enhance your workplace environment.
With most of our time spent at work, it is the ideal environment to proactively address and improve our health, wellbeing, and quality of life.
Appreciate that we all have a responsibility to one another, address suicide as a community, and make quality systematic changes that can definitively help save the lives of those around you.
Need numbers and dollar signs to support a mental health initiative for your workplace?
Use the American Psychiatric Association Foundation’s Depression Calculator for Employers. Enter your Industry Type, Number of Employees, and Region to find out how much time and money your company is losing to depression and substance abuse.
- Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Johnson FW, Gruenewald PJ, Remer LG. Suicide and alcohol: do outlets play a role? Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009;33(12):2124-2133.
- Simon OR, Swann AC, Powell KE, Potter LB, Kresnow MJ, O’Carroll PW. Characteristics of impulsive suicide attempts and attempters. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2001;32(1 Suppl):49-59.
- Deisenhammer EA, Ing CM, Strauss R, Kemmler G, Hinterhuber H, Weiss EM. The duration of the suicidal process: how much time is left for intervention between consideration and accomplishment of a suicide attempt? J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;70(1):19-24.
- Hawton K. Restricting access to methods of suicide: rationale and evaluation of this approach to suicide prevention. Crisis. 2007;28(S1):4-9.
- Yip P, Caine E, Yousuf S, Chang S-S, Wu K, Chen Y-Y. Means restriction for suicide prevention. Lancet. 2012;379(9834): 2393-2399.
- Runyan CW, Becker A, Brandspigel S, Barber C, Trudeau A, Novins D. Lethal means counseling for parents of youth seeking emergency care for suicidality. West J Emerg Med. 2016;17(1):8-14.
- Miller M, Warren M, Hemenway D, Azrael D. Firearms and suicide in US cities. Inj Prev. 2015;21(e1):e116-119.
- Crosby AE, Espitia-Hardeman V, Ortega L, Lozano B. Alcohol and suicide. Alcohol: Science, Policy and Public Health. 2013:190-193.
- Kaplan MS, McFarland BH, Huguet N, et al. Acute alcohol intoxication and suicide: a gender-stratified analysis of the National Violent Death Reporting System. Inj Prev. 2013;19(1):38-43.
- Beautrais AL, Gibb SJ, Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Larkin GL. Removing bridge barriers stimulates suicides: an unfortunate natural experiment. Aust NZ J Psychiat. 2009;43(6):495-497.
- Stokes ML, McCoy KP, Abram KM, Byck GR, Teplin LA. Suicidal ideation and behavior in youth in the juvenile justice system: a review of the literature. Journal of Correctional Health Care. 2015;21(3):222-242.