Coping With Suicide in the Workplace

Reviewed May 27, 2017

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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

Recent studies have shown that almost one-quarter of Americans have sought treatment for mental health issues at some point in their lives. The vast majority of this group deals with problems while fully engaged in their work and families. But, in 2015, as many as 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year., Depression is a leading risk factor in suicide.

When someone takes his own life, he does it because he sees no way out. It 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.   

Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist and corporate consultant specializing in workplace health and wellness, advises employers to 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 his life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

“Companies should not assume people are going to know what to do,” she says. “They may be in shock. Management may have to help them out.”

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 her 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. 

“Most people who attempt suicide and are severely depressed have been thinking about it long before they do it,” says Cora. “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 her own life, Cora says you should take those signs seriously. Tell her 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. “I would not let that person go home if I were not convinced he or she would be fine,” Cora says. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community now recognizes suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. The good news is that suicidal behavior disorder is 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 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami FL; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

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

Recent studies have shown that almost one-quarter of Americans have sought treatment for mental health issues at some point in their lives. The vast majority of this group deals with problems while fully engaged in their work and families. But, in 2015, as many as 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year., Depression is a leading risk factor in suicide.

When someone takes his own life, he does it because he sees no way out. It 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.   

Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist and corporate consultant specializing in workplace health and wellness, advises employers to 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 his life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

“Companies should not assume people are going to know what to do,” she says. “They may be in shock. Management may have to help them out.”

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 her 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. 

“Most people who attempt suicide and are severely depressed have been thinking about it long before they do it,” says Cora. “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 her own life, Cora says you should take those signs seriously. Tell her 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. “I would not let that person go home if I were not convinced he or she would be fine,” Cora says. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community now recognizes suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. The good news is that suicidal behavior disorder is 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 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami FL; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

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

Recent studies have shown that almost one-quarter of Americans have sought treatment for mental health issues at some point in their lives. The vast majority of this group deals with problems while fully engaged in their work and families. But, in 2015, as many as 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in the past year., Depression is a leading risk factor in suicide.

When someone takes his own life, he does it because he sees no way out. It 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.   

Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, a psychiatrist and corporate consultant specializing in workplace health and wellness, advises employers to 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 his life. It should also address how to handle an employee’s death by suicide and its effect on everyone in the workplace. 

“Companies should not assume people are going to know what to do,” she says. “They may be in shock. Management may have to help them out.”

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 her 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. 

“Most people who attempt suicide and are severely depressed have been thinking about it long before they do it,” says Cora. “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 her own life, Cora says you should take those signs seriously. Tell her 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. “I would not let that person go home if I were not convinced he or she would be fine,” Cora says. Hopefully, the employee will be able to see a health care provider.

We can’t always foresee a suicide. The medical community now recognizes suicidal behavior disorder as its own condition. The good news is that suicidal behavior disorder is 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 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) any time, any day. Or go to www.suicide.org online. These 24-hour-a-day suicide prevention lifelines are free services, available to anyone. All calls are confidential.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Gabriela Cora, MD, MBA, psychiatrist, author, wellness coach, Miami FL; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, MD, LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Jenni Myers, LCSW, Director, Corporate Strategy, and Dale Seamans, Executive Editor, Thought Leadership, Beacon Health Options

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