A silent struggle often goes unnoticed in workspaces and home offices across America until it’s too late. That’s why September is Suicide Prevention Month, urging us to shine a spotlight on the pressing issue of mental wellness within the professional community. Since 2020, nearly half of American workers reported experiencing mental health issues (46%) according to The Standard Insurance Company survey, Impact of Behavioral Health on the Workplace. And alarmingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked 307 workplace suicides in 2019, an increase of 34.1% from 2015. Clearly, there needs to be a sense of urgency in finding ways to help workers cope with anxiety, stress, and depression.
In this blog, we’ll explore organizations and co-workers’ crucial roles in suicide prevention. We’ll delve into the sources of workplace stress, a leading factor in suicides, identify warning signs, and how to establish a compassionate and supportive response to those who struggle.
Stress it’s all about people
Workplace stress isn’t confined to certain types of jobs or even to certain kinds of people. Every human feels pressure at one time or another. It doesn’t matter if someone is in a low-paying or highly compensated executive-level job; stress has multiple causes emanating from leadership style, resource scarcity, working conditions, or even how an individual’s personality trait is defined.
For instance, a company’s leadership styles can contribute to workplace stress. High-powered executives can unwittingly foster a high-pressure culture with continual demands for tight deadlines and demanding workloads. Or they can model unhealthy responses to stress. So, step one is recognizing leadership’s impact and how dysfunctional stress responses may negatively affect organizational performance.
Secondly, individual influences, including the mix of personality types in your organization, can affect your workplace stress level. Though oversimplified here, assessing Type A and Type B employee attributes and working conditions can help you understand your organization’s vulnerability to stress.
Type A, highly competitive, high-urgency individuals may find stress energizing and feel accomplished after a challenge. However, they sometimes share their stress vibes with others in the office. When overwhelmed, they might exhibit symptoms like sweaty palms, heart palpitations, or an upset stomach, and some research shows they may experience higher levels of cardiovascular problems and high blood pressure. Some may cope with chronic stress by developing unhealthy habits like drinking too much alcohol or overeating.
Type B individuals may have a more measured and laid-back approach to challenges. They are less likely to overload themselves and are more reasonable with expectations. However, they can be people pleasers and take on too much work. They are also not immune to long-term or even acute stress, a short-term reaction to an immediate threat, like a boss’s reprimand or the threat of losing one’s job.
The takeaway is that whether it is working conditions, job insecurity, leadership style, or generalized individual personality type, stress reduction strategies begin by first understanding key workplace stressors.
Unmasking the stress culprits
Obviously, we can’t know what conflicts might be playing out in someone’s personal life. But we can address some of the commonly identified work stressors:
- Excessive workload and tight deadlines
- Little job autonomy or micro-management
- Job insecurity or constant restructuring
- Poor work-life balance
- Bullying or harassment
- Inadequate support and resources
- Unrealistic performance expectations
If any of these stressors play a role in your culture, it’s time to illuminate and eliminate these workplace toxins. Take complaints seriously and resolve them immediately. Help your managers become better at detoxifying situations before they scale. Help all employees recognize the warning signs of unhealthy workplace stressors and give them a channel to communicate their concerns. Employees may then be more sensitized to the emotional cues that someone is struggling and needs help.
Job stress reality check
At the individual level, recognizing when help is needed is crucial. So is a culture in which asking for help doesn’t indicate weakness or inability to perform one’s job. Signs that someone might need help include:
- Disrupted sleep, chronic fatigue, or falling asleep at work
- Changes in appetite, significant weight fluctuations, or unhealthy eating patterns
- Persistent irritability and strained relationships
- Feelings of worthlessness, joylessness, or thoughts of suicide
Employers should let all workers know it’s okay to report feeling overwhelmed or in crisis. Remember, people have a legal right to a safe and respectful workplace, and federal law may require reasonable accommodations so that people can get help and keep their jobs. Everyone’s welfare matters, and addressing mental health issues should be encouraged, not discouraged.
Recognizing When to Intervene
If you suspect an employee or co-worker is grappling with suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to intervene. Look for these signs, as suggested by Rethink Mental Illness:
- Sudden changes in personality or behavior
- Mood swings, anxiety, irritability, or reckless actions
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Difficulty coping with daily challenges
- Verbal cues, such as self-deprecating remarks or threats of self-harm
It’s also important to note that according to World Health Organization data, globally, males are more likely to complete suicide attempts than females, despite females reporting more suicidal thoughts. One reason may be that men typically struggle to discuss emotional issues. Therefore, don’t brush off unusual behavior or indicators that they may need help.
We all play a role in
Finally, assisting a co-worker in a mental health crisis requires empathy and sensitivity. Listen actively and ask open-ended questions like, “I’ve noticed you’re going through a tough time.” Please encourage them to share their concerns without judgment. Assure them it’s okay to seek help and then help them find it. You can recommend your company’s employee and family assistance program or encourage them to call or text the 9-8-8 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, available 24/7 if they are in immediate distress. Above all, respect the person’s privacy. Keep their situation confidential unless their safety is at risk.
Creating a compassionate work environment isn’t just morally right; it’s essential for suicide prevention within our professional communities. By understanding workplace stressors, recognizing distress signals, and intervening with empathy, we can foster safer and healthier workspaces. Let’s use Suicide Prevention Month to ignite change and ensure that no one in the workplace feels alone in their struggle.
Free Online Resources:
Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/
National Alliance on Mental Health. NAMI
Occupational Health and Safety. Workplace Stress
Beheshti, Naz. (May 8, 2019). Stigma About Mental Health Issues In The Workplace Exists: Here’s What Companies Can Do About It. Forbes.