Suicide ~ Understanding the Signs & How a Progressive Employee Assistance Program Can Help

“It is estimated that each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people such as family members, friends and co-workers.”

Suicide. A term that encompasses so much and in so many ways.

There are statistics that attempt to explain its outcome and status in our society. There are emotions which come about when the topic is broached. And there is sheer reality when one occurs.

Suicide is the act of deliberately or intentionally taking one’s own life. Suicidal behavior may occur in the form of a drug overdose to crashing a car to use of a gun. Death by suicide is rarely caused  by a single event. In fact, it is usually the result of accumulating, complex circumstances or experiences which occur in one’s life.

There can be a host of contributing factors with very few simple answers to the ‘whys’ which arise after the tragic loss.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most recent year of data – 2011 –39,518 people in the U.S. reportedly committed suicide. Suicide ranks as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States with heart disease as the highest leading cause of death. It is estimated that each suicide intimately affects at least 6 other people such as family members, friends and coworkers.

Risk Factors:
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the most frequently cited risk factors for suicide include:

• depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
• alcohol or substance abuse or dependence
• schizophrenia, borderline or anti social personality disorder
• previous suicide attempts
• family history of attempted or completed suicide
• serious medical condition and/or pain

Other factors can include a highly stressful life event such as losing someone close, financial loss or legal troubles.

Often times, people who are contemplating suicide have done so episodically. They may think of suicide as an option to remove themselves from the psychological pain or ache, only to move back into a place of perceived wellness. As each episode presents itself, the suicidal thought may become more intense.

Warning Signs:
Should you have the occasion to come in contact with someone who you believe may be thinking about suicide, listen carefully to what is being said and watch for changes in behavior. Often times, people contemplating suicide will give subtle hints about their intentions.  When speaking with someone who is suicidal, listen for the direct and indirect message. They may be telling you about their intention to not be around in the foreseeable future. Messages such as “I won’t be back again” or “This is the last time that I will be here” can beg further clarification. Often times, the message is disguised, cryptic or encoded. Giving away prized possessions, not making future plans and/or making arrangements to give away pets are examples of possible hints of suicidal intention. Major changes in performance at work may be a warning sign.

Formerly reliable employees may have trouble meeting deadlines, finishing projects, or working as part of a team. If they have been helpful and friendly in the past, they may appear intensely negative or withdrawn becoming non-communicative and decreasing social interaction. A lack of interest in life and work may also be seen. Some people may have trouble sleeping and thereby developing problems with punctuality. Depressed employees may also begin to dress inappropriately for work, either because they don’t care about  their appearance or are having difficulty  eating properly, so that their clothes no  longer fit. You may notice a change in behavior such as personal appearance or not being present while at work.

Getting Help:
Whether it is a friend, family member or colleague at work, you will want to get them professional help. The approach you take to this is very important. Your respect and concern can have an impact on the person’s willingness to receive professional help. Offering personal concern and support, moreover letting the person know you care is paramount. As an employer, showing your understanding helps in developing the trust and motivation needed to move towards help. Taking your employee to a private office where no one can overhear your conversation is important. Contacting human resources for assistance will facilitate next steps in moving the person to a safe, helpful environment.

Death is difficult in and of itself. Death by suicide adds to the complexity of pain. It is almost always a shocking and upsetting occurrence. When someone we know commits suicide, there are often unanswerable questions as well as complicated grief. Colleagues may have wide-ranging reactions and responses to the suicide of a co worker. Reactions can range from anger to guilt to sorrow. Resources to assist those who are left behind are available through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).

An EAP is a service that offers help to individuals with personal and work related issues. The top five reasons people contact their EAP are as follows: stress management, relationships/couples/family concerns, depression, the need for legal services for divorce/separation issues and access to resources for dealing with grief and loss.

An employer provides EAP services at no cost to the employee and the service is confidential. Contacting the EAP is as easy as picking up the phone and dialing an 800 number where one is greeted by a caring  professional who can assist with issues ranging from stress and depression to relationship and marital concerns.  Dealing with alcohol and drug issues as well as domestic abuse and work related problems is only a phone call away. The EAP professional will listen and discuss individual needs and concerns. Assessing the situation and finding the best solution is key – whether it involves referring individuals to a local counselor for a face to face session or referring them to a support group or assisting them to navigate the EAP website for resource materials.  Remember, no problem is too big or too small. The EAP encourages employees and those close to them to seek help early, before a minor issue becomes more serious.

Jennifer Sewell, Vice President of Clinical and Quality Services, LifeWorks, Ceridian

The LifeWorks service is a comprehensive EAP, Work-Life, and Wellness program that helps organizations improve employee health and wellness, increase employee engagement, and improve productivity. LifeWorks provides employees and family members with access to telephonic, in person and online services to address personal and work related issues.

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