Workplace Wellbeing

Addressing the Mental Health Stigma: Suicide Awareness & Intervention

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US and globally. Here’s how to identify suicide risk in the workplace, use proven ways to intervene, and lead with compassion and care.

Written by
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Mandie Conforti, LCSW
Senior Director of Employer and EAP Strategy
Clinically reviewed by
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    Sensitive content warning: This article discusses suicide.

    It’s time to talk openly about the mental health and suicide crisis

    Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the US and globally. Losing a loved one to suicide is devastating, and even contemplating the deaths of those we don’t know personally can be deeply upsetting. 

    We cannot minimize the tragedy of suicide. But there are ways to help.

    In fact, 93% of adults believe suicide can be prevented. Even before the pandemic, there was a mental health epidemic. The last few years have intensified it. 

    Severe stigma, limited provider access and availability, and a lack of clinical navigation are all significant issues that contribute to the mental health crisis and increasing suicide rates.

    Providing clear pathways for employees to receive mental health support is more important than ever. Whether someone is in crisis or just feeling down, talking to a therapist or clinician can go a long way. 

    Keep reading to learn how to identify suicide risk, use proven ways to intervene, and lead with compassion and care in the workplace. 

    National Suicide Rates

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-34 year olds, the third leading cause for 15-24 year olds, and the fourth leading cause for 35-44 year olds.

    The suicide rate in men is four times higher than women, and people who are 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide. 

    In 2020, there were nearly two times as many suicides in the United States as there were homicides. Additionally, 12.2 million adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million adults made a plan, and 1.2 million attempted suicide. 

    How to address mental health challenges before crisis

    Mental health exists on a spectrum, and emotional wellness can fluctuate in response to different circumstances. Caring for your psychological and emotional wellbeing is ongoing, and talking openly about what you’re going through can help prevent more serious issues. 

    The more we normalize talking about mental health in the workplace, the more permission others may feel to acknowledge their own challenges. Here are three ways to do this: 

    • Regularly talk about mental health challenges as an organization and within teams, and increase awareness of available resources. Leaders can set a precedent of discussing difficult topics openly, helping to reduce the mental health stigma.
    • Offer an innovative EAP to your employees, with fast access to high-quality mental health benefits. 
    • Improve screening and early detection by training your managers and employees to recognize and respond to early signs of mental health concerns. 

    How to identify the risk of suicide

    There are several key indications that someone may be contemplating ending their own life, and it’s critical for People managers to recognize the signs in their employees. Warning signs include:

    • Noticeable changes in behavior or mood, including being uncharacteristically sad, withdrawn, or depressed
    • Making direct statements about ending their life
    • Making indirect comments like, “What’s the point of living?” “No one would miss me if I was gone”
    • Talking or writing about death or dying, including on social media
    • Giving away prized possessions

    Proven ways to intervene

    By simply having a conversation with an employee who is in pain, you could help save their life. Research shows there are three simple but powerful steps you can take to help reduce the risk of suicide for someone who is in crisis:

    1. Listen. Give the employee an opportunity to express how they're feeling. In some circumstances, you might even ask them directly if they're thinking of committing suicide. 
    2. Get help. If you identify an employee who is in crisis, call 988, which is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Stay with them and keep talking and listening until help arrives. 
    3. Provide resources. Direct them to available resources like a licensed clinician or a primary care physician.

    If your company offers Spring Health, both managers and employees can call our 24/7 clinical crisis support phone line: 1-855-629-0554, option 2. We have master’s level clinicians who monitor and answer this dedicated line, while most suicide crisis lines are staffed by trained volunteers who are not mental health providers.

    Leading with care in the workplace

    At work, everyone can contribute to building a healthy culture that values wellbeing. From managers to employees, here are some ways to help.

    Talk about mental health

    Leaders can set a standard of prioritizing mental health by talking about tough topics, like suicide and substance abuse. Telling stories is an effective way to help normalize mental health conditions, too. Ask for consent before sharing someone’s personal story, or you can keep it anonymous.

    Listen to impacted individuals

    Continue the conversation around mental health by listening to anyone who may be experiencing difficulty. Empathize with and validate what the individual is expressing. Let the person know you're available to talk at another time if they don't want to talk right now.

    Offer an innovative EAP

    Spring Health is a mental wellness benefit that can enhance or replace your EAP. From therapy to Moments—a digital library of self-guided exercises—we can help you and your teams through any mental health issues or crises, providing the guidance and support you need.

    Read this blog next to learn about the men’s mental health crisis, and why reversing the stigma can help prevent suicide for your male employees.

    About the Author
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    Mandie Conforti, LCSW
    Senior Director of Employer and EAP Strategy

    Mandie currently serves as Senior Director of Employer and EAP Strategy at Spring Health. She has clinical experience in EAP and substance use treatment, and has previously worked as a Behavioral Health Consultant at Willis Towers Watson and Mercer. Mandie spent the last 20+ years working with Fortune 500 companies to promote emotional wellbeing in the workplace. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from St. Bonaventure University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois. In addition to being certified as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Mandie is also a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200) and is working on her RYT 500.

    About the clinical reviewer
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