Suicide and the Workplace – Part II, Providing Support and Getting Help

Written by Amy Lyman

February 28, 2017

In part one of this two part post, the relevance and importance of the topic of suicide in the workplace was detailed. Suicide awareness efforts at schools and senior centers do not reach those in the middle years of their lives – a time when suicide can be an increased risk.  The proximity and time spent with coworkers means we are optimally positioned to notice changes in mental health.

Part I also covered the warning signs that someone might be in despair and feeling suicidal. This post picks up from there and addresses exactly what to do if you are concerned about a fellow employee.

The first point I would like to make might be an unexpected one.  If you have a concern about someone you work with whether it’s a new supervisor, a peer you don’t like very much, an old friend you’ve worked with for years, or someone you hardly know that you see in passing you should get support for yourself.   This also goes for seasoned managers and HR professionals.  The resources documented in this post are all excellent places to share your concerns no matter how vague.

Seeking assistance is critical because it allows you to:

  • talk through exactly what you are feeling/observing
  • get coaching around what to do
  • get emotional support for yourself- it can be very upsetting to feel directly or indirectly concerned about someone’s safety.

The next piece, of course, is to get assistance for the person who might be in despair to the point of feeling suicidal.

When to Call 911

If there is a serious and immediate concern about someone’s safety you must call 911.   Even the most clearheaded and logical person may feel extremely flustered and unsure when faced with someone wishing to end their life.

Here are a couple of ‘what/if’ scenarios to help provide clarity:

  • If there is any reason to think that someone is going to hurt themselves or someone else at the present time or near future, or perhaps has begun steps to do so (started taking pills for instance) you need to call 911.
  • If a coworker is home and texts you that they intend to take their life, you should call the police to check on them. Do not feel tempted to check on them yourself because you will be unequipped to intervene should it be needed.  Also your own safety could be at risk.

For other situations that are not of immediate and dire concern, there are excellent resources available to you and to the individual you are concerned about.

Each of the following resources is staffed to provide immediate, confidential, around the clock help.  You do not need an appointment, a clearly defined question, or even to give your name if you don’t wish to.  A sinking feeling or a vague worry are perfectly appropriate and sufficient reasons to call.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255 and (chat)
  • Samaritans Inc., 877-870-4673 (Massachusetts only)
  • The Trevor Project (for LGBTQ Community), 866-488-7386; (chat or text)
  • Your company’s EAP program – a professional resource that handles an array of issues including crisis management and suicidality.

Of course, effectively encouraging a co-worker to get some help can involve a lot more than simply handing them a phone number.

Here are some pointers on how best to support somebody as you are directing them to help:

  • Try to be fully present and don’t panic. Take some deep breaths yourself.
  • Use a concerned and compassionate tone – this is incredibly important. Remember that it is not your job to either cheer them up, come up with the perfect thing to say, or to solve their problems.
  • Listen fully and do not talk about yourself.
  • Ask directly if they are thinking about killing themselves (this will help you determine whether or not to call 911) If they have an immediate plan and the means on hand you must call 911.
  • Stay with the person until they are able to connect with some help – dial one of the numbers provided here for them or you to talk to.

My purpose in writing this post is to prepare and empower you to take action if a concern arises. Knowing what to do can help keep you calm if and when an unexpected crisis begins to unfold.

Our proximity with our colleagues provides us with a unique opportunity to reach out, speak up and support each other in difficult times.  Suicide prevention is relevant and important in the work setting and knowing how to spot warning signs, get support for yourself and direct others to effective and available help can ultimately save a life.

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