Brighter Days: Seminar promotes workplace suicide prevention strategies

About 30 business representatives, agency leaders and community stakeholders attended a workplace suicide prevention seminar Friday in Cartersville. The event, hosted by Highland Rivers Health at their ROC Clubhouse at 1 Goodyear Ave., featured a presentation by Taryn Spates, the organization's child and adolescent program manager.

"We need to be talking about suicide," Spates began the seminar, "and reducing the stigma for seeking mental health treatment and care." 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2015 lists suicide as the eleventh leading cause of death in Georgia. It is the second leading cause of death for state residents between the ages 25-34 and the third leading cause of death for Georgians between the ages 10-24.
Spates said that many suicidal individuals choose their place of employment as the location to end their own lives. "It could be because they don't want family members to come home and find them, maybe the source of where they're feeling trapped is at work," she said. "Or maybe they felt like 'that's where I can get out.'"
Workplace suicide, she said, can strike anywhere — blue collar jobs, white collar jobs, service industries or manufacturing. As a general rule, she advises employers to follow what she calls the "QPR" protocol; question, persuade and refer. 
"If you just have an uncomfortable feeling that someone might be thinking about suicide, just asking the 'question,' it's not so important how you ask, that you ask, and, without any judgment," she said. "The 'persuade' is listening to them and then saying 'will you go with me to get help, will you let me get you help?' and then getting them 'referred' to those resources."
Spates said employees and employers alike should be aware of certain indicators of suicide ideation.
"If it's generally someone who has been social, [they are] isolating themselves, or sounding like they feel like they're hopeless, that they're trapped, that there isn't a way out," she said. "Maybe mentioning 'I wish I wasn't here anymore' — it could be as plain as 'I just want to die.'"
Other general suicide risk factors, she added, are exposure to previous suicides, access to lethal means (such as firearms, pills or items that may be used for strangulation) and trying life events, like arrests, breakups/divorces or financial difficulties.
She also encourages businesses to provide suicide prevention phone line and text line information to employees and to adopt EAPs — employee assistance programs, which offer referrals and counseling opportunities to workers who may be having personal or job-related problems.
"If their insurance has mental health access, make sure they are aware of those benefits," she said. "And allow coworkers to be supportive of one another, and just remind them 'if you have concerns, check,' or 'let somebody know you have some concerns.'"
Those measures might have an impact on companies' bottom lines as well. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the economic costs of suicide — factoring in total lifetime medical and business losses — comes out to $1.3 billion annually in Georgia alone. That averages out to about $1.1 million in financial losses every time someone in the state commits suicide
As for other deterrents to workplace suicide, Spates advises employers to develop a culture of inclusion, in which workers feel "a connectedness to individuals" and "a sense of belonging." She also suggests employers help their workers develop key life skills and to seek out a "sense of purpose and sense of meaning to life," both on the job and on their own time. 

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