September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. It’s a national awareness month that calls attention to an important public health problem. It’s one that many people attend to only when they hear of a well-known person killing himself or herself. Or it’s an issue we too often dismiss as a purely personal and unavoidable one. Suicide Awareness Month also calls attention to what can be done to help prevent suicide and the many avenues for assistance and effective treatments for those at risk. This month, when Americans are experiencing more distress than ever, let’s shed some light on this sometimes uncomfortable issue.
The data on suicide
Here are a few facts about suicide. Someone in the US dies by suicide about every 11 minutes. That’s over 47,000 per year. Do you know someone who has been a victim of suicide? Odds are good you do. About 50% of people in the US say they personally know someone who died of suicide – a parent, sibling, relative, friend or co-worker. Twice as many Americans die by suicide than homicide; four times more than those killed by impaired drivers.
About every 11 minutes someone in the US dies of suicide.
The rate of deaths from suicide has jumped dramatically in this century, rising from about 10.5 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 today. It is even higher among some occupations. Law enforcement, physicians (on average, one doctor a day kills him or herself), farmers, and professional truck drivers are especially at risk. It’s the 10th leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among young people. Studying responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the CDC recently found that 1 in 4 young people had contemplated suicide this summer. Maybe that is not surprising given the disruption of access to normal stress relievers and supports. Add to that the fact that pandemic related social factors like personal isolation, loneliness, financial distress, and poor economic conditions are all associated with suicidal behaviors.
Women attempt suicide 3 times more frequently than men. But men are over 3 times more likely to have a fatal outcome from an attempt than are women. This is because men are more likely to use more lethal means. Firearms accounted for about half of all deaths by suicide each year. Most who die by suicide were experiencing an untreated or poorly managed depressive condition.
Signs to watch for
Warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die or being better off dead, talking about feelings of hopelessness, being a burden to others, or having unbearable emotional or physical pain. Dramatic mood swings or increased use of alcohol or other mood-altering drugs can also be warning signs.
Suicide awareness at work
Suicide is sometimes dismissed as not being a business issue, so some employers take little interest or responsibility for awareness and prevention. This attitude seems unfortunate and misguided to me. That’s because I regularly see how suicide disrupts the workplace. Our organization provides hundreds of trauma and grief debriefings every year for workplaces affected by a suicide. And we consult with dozens of shaken managers who question what they might have done differently. After a suicide of an employee, organizational productivity is impacted. The disruption to operations is real, sometimes long lasting, and often unpredictable. Employees and managers frequently wrestle for weeks and months with anguish and guilt from not recognizing warning signs or feeling they should have done more. Suicide of a co-worker can be especially impactful to those who are experiencing mental health conditions themselves, or who have had a suicide in their families.
What employers can do
I ask that employers join us in creating more suicide awareness this month among their workforce and in their communities. Communication about this issue helps de-stigmatize it and all behavioral health conditions. Ask your employees to support and encourage their participation in local awareness events and activities. Employers can join the growing number of organizations that have adopted awareness and screening programs for their employees. These services confidentially and anonymously screen for suicidal risk and offer employees an alternative channel to get help. Employers can also provide basic mental health information or “first aid” to educate employees on recognizing severe depression or suicidal speech and behaviors and learn simple ways to encourage others to get assistance. Doing so normalizes conversations about behavioral health in general and reduces social stigma.
We are proud to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in offering services and creating awareness. Visit their website to learn more American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you are concerned about a possibly suicidal person, call or encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-272-TALK (8255).
About the Author
Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.
Espyr is a national leader in mental health and achieving sustainable behavioral change. For over 30 years, Espyr has provided innovative mental health programs to employers, government departments and agencies, as well academic institutions. Espyr’s clients include those that operate under some of the most challenging and stressful conditions. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020
Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.
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