The topic of suicide often gets swept under the rug and is deemed as “unthinkable,” especially in the workplace. But regardless of how uncomfortable the subject of suicide may be, it is a major concern for Americans. According to the CDC, suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States when adjusting for age.

Due to how common suicide really is, all organizations would benefit from engaging in suicide prevention. It’s also important to recognize that the workplace is actually a great place to prevent suicide, largely due to the fact that so many individuals spend enormous portions of their lives there.

So what can you do to address suicide in the workplace? The answer is threefold:

  • Create an open culture and environment that prevents suicide
  • Train leaders and employees on how to notice and help at-risk individuals
  • Have a plan and support system in place in case the unthinkable happens

Let’s take a look at each of these strategies.

Create an open culture and environment that prevents suicide

Suicide may be a tough subject to talk or think about, but being open about suicide is what actually saves lives. In fact, one of the most damaging things for employee mental health is silence.

To truly make a difference in the workplace when it comes to suicide, you’ll want to start prioritizing cultural change and creating an environment that proactively encourages openness around mental health. Accomplishing this starts with your managers.

In your organization, you’ll want to train managers how to:

  • Establish open communication. Normalize the conversation around mental health in the workplace.
  • Be vulnerable. Share and be real with your people about personal struggles and worries.
  • Demonstrate genuine concern. Let individuals know that they matter as people just as much as they do as employees.
  • Create psychological safety. Create a safe environment through listening and authenticity.

Providing your managers with training on the above topics will allow you to create an environment where all employees feel safe reaching out, which ultimately results in people getting the help they need, when they need it.

Plus, not only will creating an open workplace culture and environment that supports mental wellness be beneficial for employees themselves, it’s also good for your organization as a whole. According to Deloitte, investing in workforce mental health has a 5 to 1 ROI for organizations.

This ROI comes from the fact that emotionally healthy employees are more engaged, productive, and loyal, which leads to increases in your bottom line and overall business performance.

Train leaders and employees on how to notice and help at-risk individuals

Another key element of suicide prevention will include training managers-and hopefully the rest of your team-to notice the warning signs of potentially suicidal employees.

According to the World Health organization, these are the signs you should train your people to look out for:

  • Expression of thoughts or feelings about wanting to end their life, or talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Expression of feelings of isolation, loneliness, hopelessness or loss of self-esteem, or dwelling on problems
  • Withdrawal from colleagues, decrease in work performance or difficulty completing tasks
  • Changes in behaviour, such as restlessness, irritability, impulsivity, recklessness or aggression
  • Speaking about arranging end-of-life personal affairs such as making a will, or concrete plans for suicide
  • Abuse of alcohol or other substances
  • Depressed mood or mentioning of previous suicidal behaviour
  • Bullying or harassment

If someone detects any of the signs above in an employee, reaching out is critical and just might save a life.

When reaching out to someone about such a sensitive topic, boldness and empathy will be important. If you’re looking for detailed ideas on how to reach out, the Center for Workplace Mental Health recommends the following:

  • Ask how he or she is doing.
  • Listen without judging.
  • Mention changes you have noticed in the person’s behavior and say that you are concerned about his or her emotional well-being.
  • Suggest that he or she talk with someone in the employee assistance program (EAP), the human resources department, or another mental health professional. Offer to help arrange an appointment and go with the person.
  • Continue to stay in contact with the person and pay attention to how he or she is doing.

Regardless of the words you use and the questions you ask, the most important elements of reaching out are having empathy and treating the individual as a human rather than simply an employee.

Have a plan and support system in place in case the unthinkable happens

Unfortunately, suicides can still occur even when the most proactive measures are taken. In the case that the unthinkable happens and your workplace experiences a suicide, you’ll want to have support resources in place. To provide effective support to your employees, we recommend utilizing a Proactive-EAP that offers 24/7 individual support and online resources that teach people about mental health topics, like the grief process.

This way your employees will have immediate access to help if they end up needing it after a suicide or any other traumatic event. Plus, a Proactive-EAP will help you provide your leaders and employees with the education they need in order to create an overall culture that prevents suicide upstream.

Remember, even though being open about suicide may be tough, it’s also what has the power to save lives. Don’t shy away from proactively preventing suicide in your organization until it’s too late. Take action now and provide your people with education and support that allows them to get the help they need, when they need it. Doing so will not only lift your employees, it will lift your organization as well.


If you have any questions about how VEST can help you improve your culture and provide your employees with the emotional resources they need through our Proactive-EAP, don’t hesitate to contact us at (385) 205-6789 or go@vesteap.com.

We are here to help!

Disclaimer: VEST content is not therapy and is not designed to diagnose or treat any condition you may be experiencing. Please contact a medical or mental health professional for treatment that is specific to your needs.