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September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness month. While the change of seasons brings joy to some who are sipping pumpkin-y drinks and watching leaves turn color, for others it can be a struggle. Whether people are dreading cold, dark days ahead, or dealing with mental health issues, employers should take time to assess their workforce and gauge how well employees are coping.

Suicide facts and figures

Suicide rates increased approximately 36 percent between 2000–2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicide was the cause of 48,183 deaths in 2021, which is about one death every 11 minutes. Americans with higher-than-average rates of suicide are veterans, people who live in rural areas, and workers in certain industries and occupations like mining and construction.

Suicide and suicide attempts cause serious emotional, physical, and economic impacts. It affects the health and well-being of friends, loved ones, coworkers, and the community. And the financial toll of suicide on society is also costly. In 2020, suicide and nonfatal self-harm cost the nation over $500 billion in medical costs, work loss costs, etc.

Read more news on this topic: Illinois expands bereavement leave for employees whose child dies by suicide, homicide

Knowing what to look for

Managers shouldn’t take on the role of a licensed counselor or medical professional. However, there are ways they can help employees. Having a sense of their direct reports’ overall well-being is an important first step.

Employees battling depression might show signs and symptoms, such as:

  • A persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feeling;
  • Feelings of pessimism or hopelessness;
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed;
  • Decreased energy, increased fatigue;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions;
  • Insomnia, early morning awakening, or oversleeping;
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain;
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts;
  • Restlessness or irritability;
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.

How an employee’s depression might manifest at work could result in:

  • Increased absenteeism,
  • Lower productivity,
  • A lack of stamina during the workday,
  • Missed deadlines,
  • Challenges with organization, and
  • A lower ability to handle stress.

Managers who recognize these types of symptoms and behaviors in employees — especially when it’s out of character — are in a better position to help.

Ways that managers can assist employees who are struggling might include:

  • Listening with empathy,
  • Pointing the employee toward company resources (e.g., employee assistance program),
  • Helping the employee connect with community services,
  • Offering a flexible work schedule,
  • Adjusting workloads,
  • Breaking down work assignments, and
  • Providing more break time.

If an employee is in immediate crisis, managers should reach out to Human Resources, the company safety response team, or local law enforcement.

Key to remember: September is national Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Employers should take steps to become more attuned to employees’ overall well-being and be prepared to tap into available resources as needed.