Suicide is a serious and growing public health problem. Currently, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among America’s workforce, representing the second leading cause of death for adults ages 25-34 and the fourth leading cause of death for adults ages 35-54.
As employees are spending an increasing amount of time in the office, employers cannot ignore the effect that personal and work-related stress has on employee mental health. Among adults who have been employed in the past 12 months, more than one in 10 have missed work days because they were too anxious (14%) or too depressed (16%) to go to work, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Clearly, mental health also affects employee performance, including absenteeism and decreased productivity. Long-term, these issues also have a significant effect on a company’s bottom line – suicide cost the U.S. economy $70 billion in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Fortunately, there are steps employers can take to support the mental health of their employees and turn the tide on the suicide problem in this country.
To support National Suicide Prevention Month this month, we challenge employers to take advantage of their opportunity to support and enhance their employees’ mental wellbeing. By providing vital resources, creating a positive work environment and continuing to raise awareness across industries, we can make significant progress in reducing the number of suicides each year.
Point employees to available resources
Ninety percent of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death. Further, because one in five adults are living with a mental health condition, it is essential that employers offer health plans with mental health services. One such option to include in health plans is an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which provide a variety of resources to address the wellbeing of employees.
For example, Aetna Behavioral Health’s Resources for Living (RFL) offers an EAP that provides confidential assessments and services to help resolve employees’ personal or work-related problems that may impact job performance and their mental and emotional health. RFL even goes further with integrated services to address social determinants of health.
Moreover, employee expectations of benefit offerings from their employers are changing. AFSP found that the overwhelming majority (92%) of adults in the US feel that health services that address mental health, such as treatment for depression and suicide prevention, are fundamental to overall health and should be part of any basic health care plan. CVS Health’s Path to Better Health Study also found that 44% of people think it is somewhat or very important that their employer supports their health care goals.
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Foster a supportive workplace community
One of the most effective ways to prevent suicide and ensure individuals seek help is to build an environment where employees recognize that employers value their mental health as a part of whole body wellness. To that end, employers must foster a supportive workplace where all employees are equipped to spot signs of emotional distress in others and encourage and support colleagues in getting help when needed. There are several resources available to build this positive culture, including the Campaign to Change Direction pledge to know the five signs of emotional suffering (personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-care and hopelessness).
Employers should also consider educating managers and supervisors to serve as a mental health resource for employees and to encourage open dialogue. As an example of an available education program, Aetna and AFSP have partnered to provide AFSP’s suicide prevention education presentation, Talk Saves Lives™: An Introduction to Suicide Prevention. This program is designed to help families, friends, colleagues and employers learn more about the scope of the problem, risks and warning signs of suicide and how to help save lives.
Encourage mental health check-ins
To continue a dialogue on mental health throughout the year, schedule monthly check-ins with employees to gauge their stress level, regularly highlight available resources through the company, and have literature available around the office that outlines the risk factors and warning signs of emotional distress. Workplaces should also consider engaging employees in conversations about ways to improve organizational culture to ensure that they are staying on track in building a supportive environment.
Employers have a responsibility to support employee mental health and encourage those in need to seek help. By engaging employees in mental health and suicide prevention year-round, offering health plans that include mental health benefits, and familiarizing employees with warning signs and available resources, employers can positively affect the mental health of their workforce, improve their own bottom line, and may even save a life.