Coping With Suicide in the Workplace

Reviewed Feb 10, 2021

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Summary

If your co-worker dies by suicide:

  • Find the support you need
  • Know it was not your fault
  • Give yourself permission to go on

Suicide is a desperate act of someone who feels helpless against a wall of seemingly insurmountable problems. A person may want to ease personal pain, or to ease the pain of loved ones.

And, when a person dies this way, the news can devastate a wide range of people beyond family and close friends: a workplace friend, colleague, carpool buddy, contractor or a boss.   

Employers should develop a plan regarding suicide. That plan should guide employees on what to do if they suspect a colleague may be desperate enough to take their life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

Someone contemplating suicide may be unusually quiet, or may leave signs—such as a note, talk of going away, a sudden disposal of belongings, or interest in training someone to do their job. Often, these people are too depressed to think someone will notice these signs, or sometimes they may want someone to notice.

Don’t wait for a desperate act

If you are a co-worker or manager and know someone has been going through a rough time, talk to that person to find out what is going on. Open the door to communication. Don’t be afraid to invade the person’s privacy. Reaching out to someone in trouble can make all the difference. 

The earlier you can intervene, the easier it is. If someone is talking about death, get your antenna up. Don’t normalize talk about death.

If you find a note or overhear a person talking about taking their own life, take those signs seriously. Tell them you are concerned and want to help.

Be proactive: When in doubt, err on the conservative side

You can say, “I want to get you the help you need so you will be OK. Do you want me to talk to someone myself, or do you want us to do it together?” 

If you sense imminent danger, don’t take no for an answer. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community has proposed suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. That means it could be treatable in its own right, rather than as a side effect of depression or another health condition. The bad news is that the act of suicide can happen without preparation, ideation or other prior warning signals.

If the first indication of a problem is the terrible news that someone has taken his own life, management should work quickly and carefully to help employees deal with the aftermath of death, as described in the organization’s plan.
 
Don’t hide the facts

Give the necessary details so co-workers can begin to process what has happened.  

Whether co-workers interacted with the person every day or from time-to-time, they need immediate support and direction. Specifically, they need:

  1. A chance to express their feelings and support each other 
  2. A way to express condolences to survivors
  3. A short-term plan and long-term plan to maintain workflow 
  4. Information on where and how to receive individual grief counseling, if necessary
  5. The assurance that management is empathetic and concerned about the well-being of employees

After news of a suicide, no one should be expected to be able to pick up and go back to work as if nothing happened. Be gentle on yourself and those around you, at work and at home. Pay attention to your own stages of grief. They might include:

  • Shock. You keep asking yourself if you are dreaming. How could this happen to someone I know?
  • Denial. You may look for someone or something to blame, denying the idea that your friend could choose to end his life. 
  • Anger. You may find yourself angry at the person, for taking himself away from you. Or, you may be angry about the circumstances that led to it.
  • Guilt. Friends sometimes blame themselves—a lot or a little—for not doing whatever they could to prevent a suicide. 
  • Despair. Expect sadness and feelings of vulnerability or hopelessness to follow you for a time.

You may have emotional ups and downs for days, weeks, or even months. You may even consider suicide yourself. If these thoughts linger, be sure to get bereavement counseling through your health care provider or a professional counseling service.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or use the chat feature on the National Suicide Lifeline website. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential. 

By Paula Hartman Cohen

Summary

If your co-worker dies by suicide:

  • Find the support you need
  • Know it was not your fault
  • Give yourself permission to go on

Suicide is a desperate act of someone who feels helpless against a wall of seemingly insurmountable problems. A person may want to ease personal pain, or to ease the pain of loved ones.

And, when a person dies this way, the news can devastate a wide range of people beyond family and close friends: a workplace friend, colleague, carpool buddy, contractor or a boss.   

Employers should develop a plan regarding suicide. That plan should guide employees on what to do if they suspect a colleague may be desperate enough to take their life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

Someone contemplating suicide may be unusually quiet, or may leave signs—such as a note, talk of going away, a sudden disposal of belongings, or interest in training someone to do their job. Often, these people are too depressed to think someone will notice these signs, or sometimes they may want someone to notice.

Don’t wait for a desperate act

If you are a co-worker or manager and know someone has been going through a rough time, talk to that person to find out what is going on. Open the door to communication. Don’t be afraid to invade the person’s privacy. Reaching out to someone in trouble can make all the difference. 

The earlier you can intervene, the easier it is. If someone is talking about death, get your antenna up. Don’t normalize talk about death.

If you find a note or overhear a person talking about taking their own life, take those signs seriously. Tell them you are concerned and want to help.

Be proactive: When in doubt, err on the conservative side

You can say, “I want to get you the help you need so you will be OK. Do you want me to talk to someone myself, or do you want us to do it together?” 

If you sense imminent danger, don’t take no for an answer. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community has proposed suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. That means it could be treatable in its own right, rather than as a side effect of depression or another health condition. The bad news is that the act of suicide can happen without preparation, ideation or other prior warning signals.

If the first indication of a problem is the terrible news that someone has taken his own life, management should work quickly and carefully to help employees deal with the aftermath of death, as described in the organization’s plan.
 
Don’t hide the facts

Give the necessary details so co-workers can begin to process what has happened.  

Whether co-workers interacted with the person every day or from time-to-time, they need immediate support and direction. Specifically, they need:

  1. A chance to express their feelings and support each other 
  2. A way to express condolences to survivors
  3. A short-term plan and long-term plan to maintain workflow 
  4. Information on where and how to receive individual grief counseling, if necessary
  5. The assurance that management is empathetic and concerned about the well-being of employees

After news of a suicide, no one should be expected to be able to pick up and go back to work as if nothing happened. Be gentle on yourself and those around you, at work and at home. Pay attention to your own stages of grief. They might include:

  • Shock. You keep asking yourself if you are dreaming. How could this happen to someone I know?
  • Denial. You may look for someone or something to blame, denying the idea that your friend could choose to end his life. 
  • Anger. You may find yourself angry at the person, for taking himself away from you. Or, you may be angry about the circumstances that led to it.
  • Guilt. Friends sometimes blame themselves—a lot or a little—for not doing whatever they could to prevent a suicide. 
  • Despair. Expect sadness and feelings of vulnerability or hopelessness to follow you for a time.

You may have emotional ups and downs for days, weeks, or even months. You may even consider suicide yourself. If these thoughts linger, be sure to get bereavement counseling through your health care provider or a professional counseling service.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or use the chat feature on the National Suicide Lifeline website. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential. 

By Paula Hartman Cohen

Summary

If your co-worker dies by suicide:

  • Find the support you need
  • Know it was not your fault
  • Give yourself permission to go on

Suicide is a desperate act of someone who feels helpless against a wall of seemingly insurmountable problems. A person may want to ease personal pain, or to ease the pain of loved ones.

And, when a person dies this way, the news can devastate a wide range of people beyond family and close friends: a workplace friend, colleague, carpool buddy, contractor or a boss.   

Employers should develop a plan regarding suicide. That plan should guide employees on what to do if they suspect a colleague may be desperate enough to take their life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

Someone contemplating suicide may be unusually quiet, or may leave signs—such as a note, talk of going away, a sudden disposal of belongings, or interest in training someone to do their job. Often, these people are too depressed to think someone will notice these signs, or sometimes they may want someone to notice.

Don’t wait for a desperate act

If you are a co-worker or manager and know someone has been going through a rough time, talk to that person to find out what is going on. Open the door to communication. Don’t be afraid to invade the person’s privacy. Reaching out to someone in trouble can make all the difference. 

The earlier you can intervene, the easier it is. If someone is talking about death, get your antenna up. Don’t normalize talk about death.

If you find a note or overhear a person talking about taking their own life, take those signs seriously. Tell them you are concerned and want to help.

Be proactive: When in doubt, err on the conservative side

You can say, “I want to get you the help you need so you will be OK. Do you want me to talk to someone myself, or do you want us to do it together?” 

If you sense imminent danger, don’t take no for an answer. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community has proposed suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. That means it could be treatable in its own right, rather than as a side effect of depression or another health condition. The bad news is that the act of suicide can happen without preparation, ideation or other prior warning signals.

If the first indication of a problem is the terrible news that someone has taken his own life, management should work quickly and carefully to help employees deal with the aftermath of death, as described in the organization’s plan.
 
Don’t hide the facts

Give the necessary details so co-workers can begin to process what has happened.  

Whether co-workers interacted with the person every day or from time-to-time, they need immediate support and direction. Specifically, they need:

  1. A chance to express their feelings and support each other 
  2. A way to express condolences to survivors
  3. A short-term plan and long-term plan to maintain workflow 
  4. Information on where and how to receive individual grief counseling, if necessary
  5. The assurance that management is empathetic and concerned about the well-being of employees

After news of a suicide, no one should be expected to be able to pick up and go back to work as if nothing happened. Be gentle on yourself and those around you, at work and at home. Pay attention to your own stages of grief. They might include:

  • Shock. You keep asking yourself if you are dreaming. How could this happen to someone I know?
  • Denial. You may look for someone or something to blame, denying the idea that your friend could choose to end his life. 
  • Anger. You may find yourself angry at the person, for taking himself away from you. Or, you may be angry about the circumstances that led to it.
  • Guilt. Friends sometimes blame themselves—a lot or a little—for not doing whatever they could to prevent a suicide. 
  • Despair. Expect sadness and feelings of vulnerability or hopelessness to follow you for a time.

You may have emotional ups and downs for days, weeks, or even months. You may even consider suicide yourself. If these thoughts linger, be sure to get bereavement counseling through your health care provider or a professional counseling service.

If you or your loved one are in a crisis and need help immediately, call 800-273-TALK (8255) or 800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or use the chat feature on the National Suicide Lifeline website. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential. 

By Paula Hartman Cohen

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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