According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide claimed the lives of 45,000 people in 2016, becoming the tenth-leading cause of death that year in the United States. In 2018, the high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had a heightened impact on people’s mental health and well-being in the workplace.
Research cited in an article in Employee Benefit News points out that the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals increases immediately after publicity of these types of events. This phenomenon is known as suicide contagion, or the increase in suicidal behavior following media exposure. A spike in mental health issues is routinely seen around the holidays each year - and in 2020, this is even more likely due to the stress of dealing with a worldwide pandemic.
While suicide prevention is not an easy conversation to have with clients, it’s an important one. Now is the perfect time to show your clients how they can play a crucial role in creating awareness and supporting employees who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Here’s how benefit advisers and employers can navigate the conversation:
Discuss Warning Signs
Sharing information about common warning signs of symptomatic behavior can give your clients a greater understanding of how they can help employees get the support they need. Often, typical warning signs can be seen in declining work performance, poor hygiene, sudden weight changes, mood swings and depression.
While discussing these common symptoms, help break down the misconception that behavioral health also can be a sign of suicidal behavior. Explain that more than half of people who die of suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Often, individuals considering suicide cite other issues, including fear that they are a burden to others, stress about finances or struggles to afford or secure a place to live. Discuss these instances with your client so they are aware of other factors that could be contributing to their employee’s situation.
Discussing these symptoms can help ensure your clients have a better understanding of how to play a role in supporting and assisting at-risk employees.
Remove the Stigma of Behavioral Health Issues
While it’s true that not all suicides are related to a behavioral health condition, the stigma surrounding these conditions still exists and can prevent many individuals from approaching their employer or seeking assistance. By talking with your clients about this stigma, you can help remove the labels and negative connotations surrounding mental health conditions in the workplace.
Share with your clients the ways in which they can develop proactive open lines of communication around behavioral health conditions. For example, explain how they can reach out to employees to build awareness of the services they offer to those struggling. By incorporating educational campaigns that promote awareness of resources, your clients can help ensure employees get the assistance they need. In doing so, your clients can foster a workplace culture of acceptance and support.
Promote Available Resources
As you create awareness among your clients about the role they can play in removing the stigma, it’s also important their at-risk employees are aware of the resources available to them. Regardless of what their employees may be struggling with, suicidal thoughts or another behavioral health condition, it’s important for your clients to promote resources available through their employee benefits plan. For example, you can highlight how EAPs typically provide numerous free counseling sessions.
Clients also can work with their disability carrier to address employees’ behavioral health issues. Most disability carriers can assist with integrating existing benefit offerings with other resources to help ensure clients are providing their employees with robust treatment options. Additionally, disability carriers can recommend creative solutions and accommodations to meet employees’ unique conditions and support them staying at work or returning to work sooner.
The heightened attention around suicide prevention presents you with the opportunity to discuss the importance of suicide awareness in the workplace. In doing so, your clients can better support those who may be at risk and play a crucial role in creating an inclusive and supportive environment for their workforce.