Leading with Compassion & Care: Suicide Prevention Month

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September is Suicide Prevention Month, a time organizations and individuals use to address the mental health stigma surrounding suicide by raising awareness. Over the past two decades, suicide rates have steadily risen in the United States. This topic is very important to address, as there are many misconceptions about suicide. Together, we can help to reduce the risk of suicide, and support our teams who may have been effected by it, or who may be at risk themselves. 

Suicide is a mental health epidemic that touches the lives of many Americans, and many of us may know someone who has attempted or died by suicide.  In this weeks newsletter, we share insights from Spring Health and the National Institutes of Mental Health in identifying suicide risk, asking questions to intervene, addressing mental health stigma, and responding compassionately to those in crisis in the workplace.

There are ways to address mental health challenges before crisis arises. We can do this by normalizing talking about mental health, which in turn gives others permission to acknowledge and talk about any difficult mental health situations and challenges they may be facing. As leaders, we can set the standard by talking about tough topics like our own mental health, suicide and substance abuse. We can share our personal stories to aid in normalizing the conversation, or ask others to share theirs if they are comfortable.  We can also do this by providing access to high-quality and affordable care. Lastly, we can improve screening and early detection by educating ourselves, and helping others understand how to recognize and respond to early signs of mental health concerns.

Some suicide risks include:

  • A history of suicidal attempts, Family history of suicide
  • Access to deadly means, especially firearms
  • Depression, other mental disorders, or substance use disorder, Family history of a mental disorder or substance use
  • Exposure, either directly or indirectly, to others’ suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities
  • Chronic pain
  • Exposure to [family] violence, including physical or sexual abuse

Some warning signs that someone may be at immediate risk for attempting suicide include:

  • Talking about or making suicidal statements, Talking or thinking about death often
  • Giving away important possessions
  • A sudden or significant improvement in mood 
  • Making statements and expressing feelings of being burdensome to others, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, feeling trapped, or having no reason to live.
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, such as making a will or sharing banking information
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast

Some proven ways to intervene are:

  • Listen: Give the individual an opportunity to express how their feeling. If anyone in your life or in the workplace is experiencing difficulty, validate their experiences. You may even ask someone directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” or “Do you have a plan to kill yourself?”. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do and has been proven to be a protective factor for preventing suicide.
  • Call the suicide prevention hotline if in crisis. Call 1-800-273-TALK or 911 with the individual. You can also text HOME to 741741 (US and Canada) or chat at suicidepreventionlifeline.org .
  • Offer resources: Direct them to available resources like a licensed clinician, the ER or a primary care physician. If someone has experienced a loss due to suicide, direct them to the company EAP or other mental health benefit. A helpful place to direct someone is SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) that provides resources for grief support after suicide. 

The intention here is to share ways in which we can all play a role in reducing and preventing suicide, however it is important to remind all that the warning signs of suicidal ideation are not always evident, and that if a person does take their own life, it is not your fault. 

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