Newsletter from Employee Health Promotions
Recognizing and Addressing Signs of Suicide
When a person is distressed, depressed or has suicidal thoughts, it is often the people who are closest to the person who are able to pick up cues from his or her behavior. For many, we spend much of our time in the workplace interacting with co-workers. When an employee is feeling out of sorts or is struggling at home or work it is often these individuals who are the first to notice. Being sensitive to these situations can help you play a critical role in helping your colleagues establish and maintain well being, and move towards healthier coping.
The topic of suicide continues to be a difficult subject to approach especially when you believe an employee or co-worker is experiencing significant distress. Contrary to what most people think, asking whether someone is having suicidal thoughts or feelings does not create suicidal thoughts. In fact, it makes it easier for the person to reveal such thoughts. Often a person who is having suicidal thoughts is also ashamed of such thoughts and feels relieved about being able to talk about it without being judged or labeled as weak. When you are willing to give your time and energy to assisting a troubled colleague you can open the gate for someone to obtain the emotional support that they need and to seek further support from a mental health professional.
Identifying who is at risk
Suicide is not something that happens out of the blue. It is caused by a convergence of factors, the most common being inadequately managed mental health conditions. Additionally, there is often an event or a phase of difficult events that makes a person think of taking their own life. These are usually life changing events such as losing a loved one, the end of a relationship, losing property or financial stability or any experience that the person sees as shameful or humiliating.
A person who is contemplating suicide may become withdrawn, behave out of character for their personality, or get intensely emotional over events that seem routine to others. Here are some additional behaviors that could alert you to suicidal ideation:
- Mentions of dying, not wanting to live or life losing all meaning
- Talking about being useless or being a burden on family and friends
- Being uncharacteristically subdued or depressed for long periods of time
- Having very frequent mood swings
- Getting overly dependent on substances such as alcohol or drugs
- Uncharacteristic neglect of work, personal hygiene and responsibilities
- Showing interest in practical matters related to death: making a will, benefits of a life insurance policy, planning one's funeral
If you observe that a coworker is agitated or distressed, and know they are going through a bad phase (relationship issues, sudden bereavement, conflict with spouse or parents, financial difficulties, etc.), you can offer your support. HR and managers can also keep in mind there are other cues that can be picked up from someone who may be significantly distressed:
- Sudden absenteeism or change in work patterns (e.g., a person who was usually on time and finished work long before deadlines is suddenly struggling to cope with office timings or work schedules)
- Concern about downsizing or changing of roles expressed by employees who stand to lose their jobs or who may face a significant change in responsibilities
- Difficulties experienced by employees who are not from the region, and who have to make significant lifestyle changes to adapt to their new roles
It's essential to remember that these risks don't necessarily make a person vulnerable to suicide. Rather, they indicate that the person may need additional support to cope with new circumstances.
Do’s and don’ts for supporting a coworker
There are a lot of ways you can help a coworker when they have expressed a need for support. In many cases simply listening or validating the person's distress can be enough. Here are some helpful tips for what to say and what not to say:
- Don't minimize the other person's problem. Everyone has different tolerance levels and different ways of coping with things that go wrong.
- Avoid clichés like "I'm sure you'll manage," "Be strong," "Suicide is not the answer," or "Everyone has problems." These can feel dismissive and like their feelings don’t matter.
- Let the person know that you are concerned and that he or she is valued.
- Don’t be critical or judgmental by saying things like, "Suicide is bad," or "Don't be a coward."
- Focus on the person's strengths and try to identify helpful, positive resources within the person and in his or her environment (family, friends, faith, community, etc.).
- Avoid offering advice or suggestions related to life circumstances, unless you are specifically asked to do so. It’s preferable that you listen to the person and then offer suggestions (if needed).
- Do come prepared to offer resources for support, like VITAL WorkLife’s telephonic and face-to-face counseling and prepare for how you will respond if your colleague does indicate suicidal ideation.
- Acknowledge the person's distress and ask what makes life worth living. He or she can create this list and use it as a reminder when feeling low.
- Identify the person's positive coping skills and recall how he or she has dealt with problems earlier.
Suicidal thoughts arise from a person’s emotional turbulence and insufficient coping mechanisms for the situation. If you can help decrease the person’s distress to a more manageable level in the moment, and offer resources for support, you open the door for the individual to move toward healthier coping. You can also help the person manage distress by listening, offering help and creating a supportive network.
When to take a step back
It’s understandable that you may feel overwhelmed with the idea that you are assuming responsibility for a person's well being. Here are some things to keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation:
- Everyone has a different tolerance for the support they provide to others. It is important to set appropriate boundaries that consider your needs and support your personal well being.
- It is not your job to fix your colleagues’ problems or alleviate their depression.
- You don't have to do it all yourself. Sometimes, a brief conversation can have a great impact on the person.
- You can’t help anyone if you don’t help yourself. If you are overwhelmed, seek support from your family and friends.
We Can Help
Whether you are feeling overwhelmed with the stressors of life or struggling to find the right way to support a friend or family member in need, VITAL WorkLife is here to help.
We have numerous resources available to support every aspect of your well being, including face-to face counseling, in-the-moment telephonic counseling, financial and legal consultations and more. These resources are completely free and confidential and made available to you to help you with whatever is going on in your professional or personal life. We are available anytime, day and night, to support you and your family. Contact us 800.383.1908.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 800.273.8255. If you need it, please use this free, completely confidential resource to get the help you need.
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Source: Jeurkar, S. (2016). You can save your co-worker's life (B. Schuette, Ed.). Retrieved May 6, 2016, from the White Swan Foundation website: http://www.whiteswanfoundation.org/
Vital Worklife Employee Assistance Program
Examples of services available:
Chemical Dependency Assessment
Face to Face counseling
Legal and Financial discounts
Click HERE for a complete list of services offered by this provider.
Phone number is: 1-800-383-1908.
Website is: http://vitalworklife.com username-mankatoschools, password -member
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Other Resources For Your Wellness
- MAPS Community Education and Recreation classes and events are advertised in the seasonal brochure each Fall, Winter and Summer. Employees are eligible for a $10 fee reduction for a class in each brochure. Each individual must register and provide their employee email address and work site. Contact the CER office at 507-387-5501 for more information.
- READY! for Kindergarten. At the time of a requested paternity/maternity leave, an employee is entitled to two (2) years of READY! for Kindergarten Classes advertised in the seasonal Early Childhood Brochure. Registration is conducted through the Early Learning Office by calling 507-625-4620 or stopping by the Family Learning Center, 820 Hubbell in Mankato and completing the paperwork process.
- 2020 MAPS Employee and Dependent Flu Shot Clinic - August 2020
Benefits for employees insured through MAPS