Suicide is a difficult topic. But having those hard conversations could make all the difference for your employees.

According to the human resources association SHRM, four out of five deaths by suicide occur among people in their prime working years, ages 45 to 54. Suicide awareness and prevention in the workplace is an important way to reach this demographic.

Knowing what to look for and how to help can save lives.

Discussing suicide in the workplace

Many employers hesitate to talk about suicide, notes SHRM. They fear they’ll approach it the wrong way or make matters worse.

But talking about mental health and suicide doesn’t worsen symptoms or increase attempted suicides. The Mayo Clinic notes that communication increases the chances of an individual seeking treatment and improving their mental health. Broaching this topic at work could save the life of an employee or their loved one.

What to look for

Signs that an employee is considering suicide include:

  • Talking about suicide
  • Fixating on death in conversations, meetings and messaging platforms
  • Giving away belongings at home or in the office
  • Asking about clauses or exceptions to life insurance policies
  • Changes in behavior, mood or work performance
  • Exhibiting sadness or making hopeless statements about life or their value

Surveys show that remote employees may have an increased risk for burnout and depression, which can lead to suicidal thoughts. However, these warning signs apply to all employees.

Supervisors should check in frequently with team members. Look for changes in mood. Pay attention to unkempt appearances during meetings or video chats. Listen to employees, particularly if they start talking about feeling unfulfilled, or being overly stressed or burned out.

Other signs of deteriorating mental health are when an employee becomes quieter than usual or stops attending meetings they normally do. Trouble meeting deadlines or sudden changes in productivity can also be red flags.

Ways to help

Work is central to how people spend their days and forge their identities. As an employer, you have an opportunity to make a big difference in your employees’ lives.

Here are some strategies to improve suicide awareness and prevention in the workplace:

  • Cultivate a psychologically safe work environment. Eliminate workplace bullying, harassment and toxic behaviors.
  • Emphasize employee health and well-being by promoting reasonable workloads, employee autonomy, preventive medical treatment and wellness opportunities.
  • Communicate about your employee assistance program (EAP) and other mental health benefits. Many EAPs offer suicide screenings, training and crisis response services. Treatment, therapy and medication can reduce the risk of suicide, according to the Mayo Clinic.
  • Offer mental health days or additional paid time off for employees to address mental health concerns. This could help employees tackle two of the biggest barriers to mental health treatment: time and money.
  • Educate supervisors and employees about warning signs and how to help. Host workshops, webinars and other forms of education. Share stories from people who have struggled with suicidal ideation and received help.
  • Support employees with robust return-to-work programs when they come back from mental health-related leave.
  • Encourage open communication at all levels of your organization. Share information on suicide awareness and prevention through multiple channels throughout the year. For example, post signs with information on crisis hotlines, and regularly send links to resources on suicide prevention.

A helpful nationwide resource is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Launched in August 2022, the lifeline is free, confidential and available 24/7. It offers call, text and chat capabilities. Encourage any employee in need to dial or text 988, or visit the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.

A continuing effort

For more ideas on suicide awareness and prevention, talk with your benefits adviser. They can help you examine your mental health benefits, training opportunities, return-to-work practices and communication efforts.