Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans, but much like mental health in general, the topic rarely gets the attention it deserves. There is a stigma against discussing suicide and mental health in the United States that hinders meaningful conversation about the topic. Open dialogue is an important part of preventing these tragic deaths and establishing safety outlets for those in need. This HR Insights examines the rise of suicide in the U.S., provides general facts surrounding it and explains how employers can help curb this growing epidemic. Suicide is not a new issue. It has been among the top 12 leading causes of death in the U.S. since 1975, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And its position has only risen since then. Since 2000, suicide rates have increased more than 28 percent, according to the CDC. In 2015, the most recent year in the data available, there was approximately one suicide every 12 minutes—totaling 44,193 deaths that year. Beyond the human toll, the economic consequences of suicide are staggering. According to the CDC, one estimate put the economic cost at around $50 billion, while another had it near $93 billion annually. Factors like potential underreporting of suicide, total lifetime costs and per capita calculations were used in the estimates.
Understanding Suicide & Mental Health
Having a mental illness issue does not guarantee you will be suicidal. However, depending on the illness, it can make positive thinking much harder. The CDC describes mental illness as “conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behavior.” Common types of mental illness include depression, anxiety and personality disorders.
By current estimates, about 1 in 5 Americans are living with a mental illness. This dispels the idea that mental health is something that can be willed away. Chances are that you personally know someone with a mental illness or at least work with an individual who has one. It’s important that you take meaningful steps to help people with these conditions, not just pretend they do not exist. In fact, inaction is a large part of the problem.
What Employers Can Do
Companies cannot expect employees with mental illnesses to simply “snap out of it” or wipe away thoughts of self-harm. Employers need to acknowledge that mental illness comes in many forms and that it probably affects more of their employees than they know. This is why employer-sponsored assistance programs are so important.
Employers should foster a safe environment that encourages employees to speak up if they’re feeling overwhelmed by work, as this is a significant stressor for depression and other mental illnesses. Beyond reassessing company culture, organizations can offer referrals or access to mental health professionals through their employee assistance program. One of the most effective ways to reduce suicide is by being there for someone in need. With this in mind, consider empathy training for managers so they can recognize the warning signs of severe depression and can address them with the individual.
Resources For Employers
This section includes resources that you are encouraged to share with employees. Anyone can access this information, but, as an employer, you have the opportunity to proactively share these links with employees. Take a look at the information and consider sending an email or hosting a meeting to discuss this serious topic.
The CDC offers a number of resources aimed at addressing and preventing suicide resulting from mental illness. Below are some of their most robust resources:
- “Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices” (www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicideTechnicalPackage.pdf)
- Important information about suicide in the U.S. (www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/suicide)
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers services, training and education on depression and bipolar disorder. Learn more about these services on their website, www.dbsalliance.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another organization committed to suicide prevention. They created the “Be The 1 To” campaign to educate people about helping those who suffer suicidal thoughts. Their website (www.bethe1to.com) provides more information about how to help.
The group also offers a free, 24/7 phone and chat service for those experiencing suicidal thoughts or advocates who need resources to help a loved one. The calls are confidential and are well-regarded as helping the individuals who call. Here is their contact information:
- Website: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Telephone: 1-800-273-8255
- Betsy Kamler
- Andrew Bartolotta
- Melissa Wilkes Donahue