The Surging Suicide Rate; What Should Employers Do?

Today’s news headlines that life expectancy for Americans fell for the second time in the past 3 years painted a disturbing picture of life in America.   The primary reasons for the decline? Increasing deaths from opioid abuse and suicide.

The suicide rate in America is up 33% in less than 20 years. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-34 and fourth leading cause of death among 35-54 year olds.

The suicide rate is up 33% in less than 20 years

Why the suicide rate has increased so rapidly is open to debate. Alcohol and substance abuse, increasing rates of depression, the declines in the family structure as well as sense of community, economic woes, even smartphone usage have all been associated with suicide in one way or another.

Mental health and suicide

The reasons for the increase in the suicide rate may be complicated, but what is clear is that suicide is preventable. In 2016, 45,000 people died by suicide in the US. The number of people who attempted suicide was nearly 29 times higher than that. That’s over 1.25 million people who attempted suicide but survived.

Survivors often describe that it wasn’t the desire to die that drove their suicide attempt, but a desire to escape pain. That pain can be physical, but is often mental pain. Mental pain can be difficult to acknowledge because of the stigma that exists around mental health issues.

The role of employers

One in five Americans will suffer a mental health issue in a given year

Employers have a vested interest in recognizing the importance of mental health.  Employees suffering from mental health issues such as depression will miss approximately five workdays and experience 11.5 days of reduced productivity every three months. This isn’t an isolated issue either. One in five American adults will suffer from some type of mental health issue in a given year.

How can employers help? First, companies need to eliminate the stigma of mental health. Studies have shown that more accepting workplaces have happier employees with better productivity. Awareness and education through frank and open discussions and training is critical in removing mental health stigma.

Second, employers need to learn to recognize the signs of depression. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways: physically, behaviorally and emotionally. Physically, changes in appetite, aches and pains, changes in sleep habits and feeling extremely tired can all occur. Behaviorally, those with depression may exhibit irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating or difficulty completing daily routines. Increased alcohol consumption or reckless behavior can occur. Emotionally, a strong and consistent feeling of sadness, anxiety or hopelessness may be noticed.

Many companies offer exercise programs or wellness classes such as yoga or meditation. Unilever, one of many companies that have established comprehensive programs designed specifically to support employee mental health, provides regular employee workshops on sleep, mindfulness and exercise, all of which have been linked to good mental health and psychological wellbeing.

One of the most effective ways to support employees with mental health conditions is taking advantage of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Comprehensive EAP programs offer information workshops and training for employees and supervisors on mental health. This training helps employees recognize the symptoms of depression and prepares workers and supervisors for actions that need to be taken when suicide prevention measures are called for. Employees have access to counselors through the EAP who are trained and certified to handle mental health issues such as depression.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re afraid to come forward because of the stigma of mental health. They’re worried about confidentiality or they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment.

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees 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.

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 judgment.”

Learn more

As a leading behavioral health provider, Espyr has extensive experience working with employers to recognize and deal with employee mental health issues such as depression or feelings of suicide. To learn more how Espyr can help your organization call us at 888-570-3479 or click here.