Supporting and empowering our members to look at their workforce and the challenges they face is a constant conversation we have here at Employers Council. Often, those challenges mean having difficult and emotional conversations with employees, including addressing employees that have expressed thoughts of suicide. To help provide some insight and some resources, we have partnered with Alexandra (Alex) Yannacone of CU Johnson Depression Center, where they offer several educational classes on the topic of mental wellness. Working Minds: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace is an educational offering provided to help employers understand that although suicide prevention is a personal issue, it is also a public health issue that impacts the workplace. By improving a workplace’s commitment to supporting well-being and mental health promotion, employers can be a crucial partner in the effort to prevent suicides. We recently asked Alex some questions on this important topic. The following is what she had to say.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do? I am the Director of Education and Community Programs for the CU Johnson Depression Center. I offer a range of educational opportunities for our communities regarding mental wellness. Our programs are offered in a variety of settings, including schools, workplaces, and non-profits. Topics range from stress management to understanding mental health to suicide prevention. We are willing to work any organization to develop programs that best fit their needs.
- Do you find employers taking proactive measures regarding suicide prevention in the workplace, or is it more of a reactive approach? We find that with suicide, it tends to be more reactive.
- If you find it is more of a reactive approach, why do you think there is so much fear from employers around addressing suicide in the workplace? Suicide is a tough topic, and it is also complex. Over the last several decades, there has been a lot of stigma around mental health and suicide. Because of this, there has been a lot of fear regarding the topic, which in turn makes us avoid difficult conversations. Unfortunately, we know that this can have some negative impacts. We are wanting to create a forum for dialogue and critical thinking that can really help employees and businesses approach this topic in a sensitive and supportive way. We are hoping by offering research-based education that we can change these fears and provide hopeful solutions to help employers and employees.
- What are the warning signs of suicide that employees might exhibit in the workplace? There are a variety of warning signs and risk factors that a person may present with around suicide. Some of the common risk factors include financial or job issues, relationship problems, and substance abuse. With warning signs, we may see an increase in isolation, issues in work performance, concern statements about being a burden or worthless, discussion or access of suicidal means, and saying goodbye in sudden ways.
- How do you talk to an employee when they have expressed thoughts of suicide/and or exhibiting warning signs of suicide? It is best to be very direct in conversations about suicide. Asking direct questions like, “are you thinking of suicide” is the best option if there is true concern. We have also found that empathy in these conversations can have a positive impact. We are not going to know all the right things to say or make everything go away, but by being thoughtful, compassionate, and truly listening allows individuals to find the support they are needing.
- What resources are available to help employers address suicide in the workplace? It can be really helpful to have a good connection with your EAP and national helpline like the National Suicide Lifeline. Having educational opportunities like Working Minds can also help open conversations and resources for those who may need extra support. Working Minds will be available on February 14th, and we will discuss more around this topic. This training will include learning opportunities through video, group discussion, and role-plays. Participants will walk away with a better understanding of their resources and how they can best support their employees and their workplace.
Alex will be presenting the Working Minds Training at our Colorado Offices February 14, 2020. If you have questions about suicide in the workplace, don’t hesitate to reach out to Employers Council, the CU Johnson Depression Center, and your EAP. Finally, remember, don’t be afraid to talk to someone you are concerned about.