Employee Suicide Is the Next Big Workplace Safety Crisis

By Jon Hyman

Jul. 24, 2019

A recent headline at caught my eye:

Suicide seen as “next frontier” in workplace safety risks. It’s a pretty dramatic headline, but when you drill down into the statistics, it has a lot of weight.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Between the ages of 10 and 34, however, suicide is the second leading cause of death, and the fourth leading cause of death between the ages of 35 and 54.
  • In 2017, 47,173 Americans died from suicide (more than double the number of homicide victims), and another 1.4 million attempted suicide.
  • Between 2000 and 2016, the U.S. suicide rate among adults ages 16 to 64 rose 34 percent, from 12.9 deaths for every 100,000 people to 17.3 per 100,000.
  • In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics hit a record in its 25-year tally of workplace suicides at 291, with the number gradually climbing over the prior decade.
  • The highest suicide rate among men was for workers in construction and mining jobs, with 53.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2015, up from 43.6 in 2012.
  • The highest suicide rate among women was for workers in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, with 15.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2015, up from 11.7 in 2012.
The numbers are stark and scary and show a nation in the midst of a mental health crisis. What can employers do to recognize and mitigate this risk, and provide a safe workplace for employees in crisis?
For starters, educate yourself. There are a lot of free resources available online.

Next, employers need to increase awareness and reduce the stigma that surround mental health issues. Stigma and silence are the two biggest reasons why those that need help don’t receive it. What can employers do to recognize and help an at-risk employee?

1. Be aware of individual risk factors for suicide. You cannot always prevent suicide, but you can understand some of the risk factors so that can recognize when an employee might be in crisis and in need of help.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders.
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies.
  • History of trauma or abuse.
  • Major physical illnesses.
  • Previous suicide attempt(s).
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Job or financial loss.
  • Loss of relationship(s).
  • Easy access to lethal means.
  • Local clusters of suicide.
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation.
  • Being victimized by discrimination, harassment, or bullying.
  • Stigma associated with asking for help.
  • Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment.
  • Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma.
  • Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and Internet).

2. Provide mental-health awareness training to managers and supervisors. They spend the most time observing their employees, and are often in the best position to observe behavioral changes and risk factors, and hear from co-workers that someone might be in danger. Some of the warning signs for everyone to look for include:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Extreme mood swings.

3. Consider implementing a comprehensive psychological health and safety management program to help improve overall workplace culture and resolve issues more effectively. This program would include eliminating stigma related to mental health issues; developing an inclusive working environment for all; and ensuring that you have a confidential Employee and Family Assistance Program (EAP) that offers support and counseling services and that your employees are aware of it.

4. Educate all employees and support those are struggling. This effort includes mental-health awareness and suicide prevention education to employees; reducing stigmas relating to protected classes, mental illness, substance use disorder, and suicide; expanding awareness of mental illness and addiction; encouraging help-seeking for those at-risk; creating a caring and supporting work environment, including the promotion of listening and interpersonal skills to help all employees.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or exhibiting suicidal behavior, help is just a phone call away via the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 800-273-8255. One phone call can save a life.
Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at


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