Chances are good you know someone who has died by suicide or someone whose life has been affected by suicide. In the US, more than 40,000 people died by suicide in 2013, the last year for which data is available, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Worldwide, the number of lives lost each year to suicide exceeds those lost to homicide and war combined. The human tragedy of these lives lost is immeasurable.
Why is this issue important to business leaders and Human Resources departments? Because suicide rates are highest among those in the prime of their working lives—those 25 to 64 years old. The financial and economic burden is estimated at $44 billion annually, driven almost entirely by lost wages and productivity.
Yet, suicide is preventable. More than 90 percent of those who died by suicide had a mental health disorder at the time of death, most commonly depression, alcohol abuse, or both. And mental health disorders are treatable. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the workplace is “… the last crucible of sustained human contact for many of the people who kill themselves each year in the US.” If this is true, then Human Resources is uniquely positioned to provide leadership to suicide prevention efforts in the workplace.
The advantage of the workplace (and HR) in suicide prevention is that communication channels are already established in the workplace to disseminate public health messages and to make referrals for medical treatments. These same channels can be used to raise awareness about mental health and to refer employees with mental disorders to treatment.
September 7–13 has been designated as this year’s National Suicide Prevention Week (NSPW), an annual campaign to inform and engage the general public about suicide prevention. The campaign serves as a call to action to individuals and organizations to help prevent suicide in America. To answer that call in your workplace, consider doing one or more of the following:
10 activities HR could facilitate during Suicide Prevention Week:
- Launch a mental health awareness campaign
- Promote the company’s mental health benefits
- Offer a free online screening for depression
- Post the warning signs of suicide
- Institute a no tolerance policy for workplace bullies
- Distribute leaflets, posters, and other written material
- Remind employees of the company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Organize a team of employees to participate in a local American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) Out of the Darkness fundraising walk
- Schedule a Mental Health First Aid training class
- Schedule a SafeTalk suicide prevention class
Sources for statistics and additional information and communication toolkits can be found at: