Earlier this year, we endured a one-two punch of the suicides of fashion icon Kate Spade and author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain.   As always happens following celebrity suicides, a barrage of TV, news and social media stories followed exploring, in intricate detail,  how they died and what led up to their fateful decisions. Unfortunately, these tragedies – and the ever-present news coverage – often lead to more of the same. In a study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, media reports of suicides of well-known figures can trigger suicides in viewers and readers. When someone struggling with mental health issues sees that someone with similar issues responded to that suffering by killing themselves,  “It puts death on the table”, says news site Vox.

But these stories can also have a positive effect; they can cause employers concerned about the physical and mental health of their employees to evaluate their healthcare plans and determine if they’re doing enough.

Causes of Suicide

While the cause of suicide is not known, it most often occurs when the stresses of life exceed the coping abilities of someone already suffering from a mental health condition. In these cases, at these moments, stressors and health issues converge to create strong feelings of hopelessness and despair, something that seems impossible to overcome through any other method than death.

Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life. Regrettably, it’s more common for those conditions to go untreated. Depression is the most common risk factor associated with suicide, and it’s often one that is undiagnosed or untreated. Other risk factors include anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder and a family history of suicide.

Any of the conditions mentioned, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide.

The Cost of Suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares the latest statistics on suicide, and it’s not good news. Here are just a few of the startling facts:

  • Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30%.
  • Almost 45,000 Americans die each year by suicide – about 123 per day.
  • For every documented suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts.
  • Suicide costs the U.S. $69 billion annually in medical costs and work loss.

To make matters worse, since the stigma surrounding suicide leads to underreporting, the CDC estimates these numbers to be higher.

The Employer’s Role

Those employers who currently provide some sort of behavioral health counseling benefit – better yet, a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – are already going in the right direction. Same with school administrators providing a Student Assistant Program (SAP). Their employees (or students) have a place to go when they feel the need to seek help.

More comprehensive EAPs and SAPs, however, don’t stop at basic counseling. Some offer early suicide identification services and 24/7/365 intervention. Others conduct suicide prevention training activities on location or, in the aftermath of a suicide, critical incident trauma responses to help the rest of the community deal with their feelings.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re worried about confidentiality, they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment or they believe “things will just work out.”

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees and students with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employee/Student visits the anonymous ISP website
  2. Takes a brief stress and depression questionnaire
  3. Receives a personal response from an EAP counselor
  4. Exchanges messages with counselor – asks and learns about available services
  5. Gets feedback and encouragement
  6. Requests an appointment or referral

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgement.”

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your employees (or student population) deal with feelings of suicide – or any other behavioral health issue click here.