Why Workplace Suicide Is On the Rise and What You Can Do to Prevent It


Suicide claims the lives of one million people a year worldwide and is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of suicides continues to rise — particularly in the workplace — according to a recent study.

Researchers compared workplace suicides to non-workplace suicides in the United States between 2003 and 2010 using numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injury (CFOI) database. The results showed that just over 1,700 people died by suicide in the workplace during this period. Prior to 2007, workplace suicides had decreased and then sharply increased that year, a potential impact of the 2007/2008 global economic crisis. Suicide outside of the workplace generally increased over this time, claiming the lives of 270,500 people total.

The study shows the impact of suicide in this country — even among those who are employed, says study author Hope Tiesman, PhD, an epidemiologist at the division of safety research at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Who Is at Risk?

People in protective service jobs, such as police officers and firefighters, and those in farming, forestry, and fishing, had the greatest risk of suicide, according to the study. Previous research suggests that the increased suicide risk among these specific occupations may be linked with the availability and access to lethal means, such as firearms for law enforcement officers, and economic factors, such as financial hardships among farmers.

Dr. Tiesman suggests that the rising numbers of suicide in the workplace could be a result of the increasingly blurred lines between personal and work life in the United States, and employers should act accordingly.

The research opens the discussion for new suicide prevention strategies, says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Statistically speaking, the majority of suicides in the United States are middle-aged white men,” she says, “That population is spending the majority of their waking hours in a workplace environment, so there is a real opportunity for organizations to take a proactive stance for the mental well-being of their workforce.”

Dr. Moutier points to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Interactive Screening Program, which allows employees to be screened for mental health issues online and be connected with counselors both anonymously.

“Because it protects people’s reputation and privacy so carefully and customizes responses to their concerns, that’s why we think it’s so effective,” she says.

Recognizing Suicide Risk in Your Colleagues

Awareness of signs of suicide can also help people recognize mental illness and suicide risk among their co-workers. Of course, picking up on these signs depends on an individual’s relationship with the person, but Moutier suggests always trusting your instincts.

“When you work with someone closely every day, you get to know them and their personality and can pick up on changes,” she says. “Often times, what those behavioral changes add up to are deterioration of mental health.”

Suicide warning signs include:

Talking about killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, and unbearable pain, acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, increased use of drugs or alcoho, aggression, isolation from others, loss of interest, one or more of the following moods: depression, rage, irritability, humiliation, and anxiety.

How to Find Help

If you suspect someone at work may be at risk, Moutier suggests starting by expressing concern over a cup of coffee. “Keep it very informal,” she says. “Ask open ended questions and really just let them talk without judging them.” After that, you can offer them resources either at your job, if mental health services are available, or at a local mental health center.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

SOURCE: Everyday Health – Ashley Welch

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