With the high-profile deaths this month of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain, the crisis of suicide has been thrust into the spotlight. Suicide deaths in the United States have increased 25% between 1999 and 2016, with an estimated 45,000 occurring per year.
I’ve written about suicide prevention in older adults and protocols for managing suicidal residents before. This column focuses on what organizations can do to address employee suicide.
As I prepared for this article, I realized that we don’t hear much in the industry news outlets about suicide among our staff members. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
Research has shown that physicians are twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population, and while there is a notable lack of information about the suicide rates for nurses in the US, a report from the UK finds that “for females, the risk of suicide among health professionals was 24% higher than the female national average; this is largely explained by high suicide risk among female nurses.”
A suicide death in the small-town atmosphere of a nursing home can have a devastating ripple effect, deeply affecting other staff members, as well as residents and their families. It can be particularly difficult to absorb a suicide death in an environment where others are struggling to live, despite age and disability and where the job of workers is to keep people alive.
A death by suicide leaves those around the deceased wondering how they might have failed their coworkers and teammates. This feeling can be particularly acute among individuals who pride themselves as excellent caregivers — the kind of people who work in long-term care.
How employers can help
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) points out that it is not only more humane to create an organizational culture of physical and mental health, but it also leads to more productive employees. They suggest a comprehensive approach based on the following three elements to make workplaces more supportive to those who are struggling with depression.