In mid-2018, within the same week, celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were sadly found to have died by suicide. As people around the world mourned the loss of these icons, we also were reminded that anyone (no matter how wealthy, famous, or seemingly happy) can be affected by feelings of hopelessness and despair, as well as suicidal thoughts.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Each year, 44,965 Americans die by suicide. On average, there are 123 suicides per day, occurring in all demographic groups, for a variety of reasons.
In my experience as an HR Manager, I have received a handful of calls over the years from concerned employers and managers, wondering what they can do about an employee who appears to be struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide. My recommendation is always to direct the employee in question to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
EAPs are excellent programs that promote overall wellness and benefit employees in a variety of ways. Staff One HR provides an EAP through Aetna to all clients, giving their employees access to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The free service can be accessed via phone or online, and employees can rest assured that both usage of the EAP and interactions with EAP representatives are kept confidential. Our EAP offers short term counseling on all aspects of life, including anxiety, anger management, coping with a life change, depression, divorce counseling, dealing with domestic violence, stress management, substance abuse, and much more.
It may not feel like pointing an employee to an EAP program is enough. However, employers must be cautious when inquiring about an employee’s medical conditions (which may include mental illnesses, such as depression). Ultimately, it is up to us as individuals to seek the help we need. It can be hard to reach out and ask for help, and not everyone knows where to turn, so providing this information (in a positive, non-judgmental way) may be just what an employee needs to take the necessary steps to resolve challenges they may be facing.
Of course, if an employee confides in you that he or she is feeling suicidal, in addition to taking the time to listen to them and refer them to your EAP, you also can direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24 hours a day. This is a confidential and free service. Individuals can call the lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or access chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.