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Is Suicide Impacting Your Workplace?

  • Is your employee one of the 12.3 million individual adults who have considered suicide this past year?
  • Is your employee one of 3.5 million individuals who have made a plan for suicide?
  • Is your employee of 1.7 million individuals who have attempted suicide?
  • Is your employee dealing with intimate partner problems, job-related issues, and physical health problems?

If you are a leader, you realize that a vicarious trauma-informed workplace is one way to deal with the problem of mental health. With such a large proportion of the adult population affected, it is likely that employees are struggling with suicidal thoughts or the aftermath of a suicide attempt. Being aware of and proactively destigmatizing mental illness and help-seeking behaviors, promoting resilience and coping skills, and easy access to mental health resources like counseling, are crucial when fostering a culture of psychological safety and support.

The Role of First-Line Supervisors and Leaders

First-line supervisors and leaders play a crucial role in cultivating a vibrant community of well-informed employees who show keen interest and active participation in workforce wellness initiatives. For example, these employees may include first responders, health care professionals, and mental health professionals. Achieving a cultural shift necessitates a sustained commitment from organizational leadership.

Organization-level strategies aimed at improving processes and culture include peer-to-peer programs, workflow modifications, changes to institutional policies (e.g., time off and leave policies), fostering organizational culture change, and expanding resources for staff (e.g., childcare and family support programs). Institutional strategies for enhancing leadership wellness encompass organizational policies and practices designed to support leadership well-being, flexible work arrangements, and supportive leadership structures.

Why Emotional Intelligence is Important in Leadership

First-line supervisors and leaders who demonstrate high emotional intelligence advocate for wellness and model healthy behaviors. By incorporating self-care practices into their daily routines, they set a precedent for their teams to follow. They emphasize the importance of work-life balance for overall well-being and lead by example. By showing compassion towards employees, leaders become powerful role models, encouraging others to embrace self-care. This nurturing approach fosters a balanced and empathetic perspective on both strengths and challenges, creating a ripple effect of increased motivation, morale, and performance throughout the team.

First-line supervisors and leaders can develop the skills needed to promote employee self-care, fostering a culture that values and encourages well-being. They can provide resources and support for employees to prioritize their health by strategically disseminating information to staff and other stakeholders about plans, expectations, and organizational objectives, emphasizing positivity and addressing essential needs. To earn the trust of colleagues across departments, first-line supervisors should gain buy-in from organizational leadership to support and sustain wellness programs. They must ensure that employees receive the resources they need, meet employees where they are, and demonstrate behaviors that reflect their commitments. Creating a safe environment for open dialogue is crucial.

Embrace a Holistic Approach to Cultivate Self-Care Across the Organization

Sustained endorsement and active involvement from supervisors and leaders are vital for successfully implementing self-care practices across the organization. Ongoing commitment reinforces the organization’s dedication to fostering employee well-being and helps establish channels for continuous collaboration and feedback. By involving staff members in the process, first-line supervisors and leaders can ensure that self-care initiatives are relevant, effective, and aligned with everyone’s needs and perspectives.

Embracing self-care as a core organizational value is fundamental to cultivating a supportive culture. When holistic well-being is prioritized, departments can create environments that facilitate personal growth, resilience, and sustained positive change. First-hand leadership engagement and employee input are key to developing impactful self-care programs that resonate.

Expanding Offerings and Services for Enhanced Self-Care

EAP programs are not enough. Organizations can foster employee well-being by having an on-site emotional support coordinator who provides confidential individual and group interventions. This coordinator serves as a compassionate listener, offering consultations, referrals, and debriefing sessions, as needed. Their presence demonstrates the department’s commitment to supporting mental health. Also, to address and respond to vicarious trauma effectively, organizations should establish a formalized process and implement targeted strategies.

Regular communication through newsletters, emails, blogs, internal websites, department meetings, management meetings, and organizational campaigns can keep employees and their spouses/partners informed about relevant programs and initiatives while also measuring their impact.

Resources and guidance should also focus on supporting leaders’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being, ensuring they are educated on vicarious trauma-informed practices. This holistic approach to leader development is crucial. Designating a key individual to lead and support the vicarious trauma program is essential.

This person should be accountable for following through on action plans, as consistent follow-through demonstrates the organization’s genuine commitment and allows for improvements based on results and feedback. Without accountability and follow-through, even well-designed initiatives can lose momentum and fail to create meaningful, lasting change.

Outcome: Preventing Suicide Among First Responders and Veterans

veteran in front of the flagData from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) indicates that first responders accounted for 1% of all suicides between 2015-2017. Breaking it down by discipline, these first responder suicides occurred among:

  • law enforcement officers (58%)
  • firefighters (21%)
  • emergency medical services (EMS) providers (18%)
  • public safety telecommunicators (2%)

Compared to non-first responder suicides, a higher percentage of first responders used firearms as the method (69% versus 44%). Among first responder suicides where the circumstances were known, the most frequent contributing factors were intimate partner problems, job-related issues, and physical health problems.

In 2021, 6,392 Veterans died by suicide, an increase of 114 from the previous year. When adjusting for age and sex, the suicide rate among Veterans rose by 11.6% from 2020 to 2021. This increase was significantly higher than the 4.5% rise in the age- and sex-adjusted suicide rate among non-veteran U.S. adults during that same time frame.

The data underscores that Veterans continue to face an elevated risk of suicide compared to the general population. Behind each number are real lives cut short, leaving loved ones and the nation to grieve. These statistics highlight the urgent need for enhanced suicide prevention efforts and improved access to mental health resources specifically tailored for the Veteran community.

Ultimately, leaders must take this issue head-on through policies and initiatives being that annually, over 49,000 people die by suicide. The human and organizational costs are too high to ignore the mental health and suicide crisis affecting these segments of our workforce. A public health approach includes limiting access to lethal means, peer support, increasing access to mental health services, and promoting open dialogue, education, and awareness campaigns to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

As a leader, encourage employees to seek help without fear of judgment or discrimination while addressing occupation-specific risk factors. You recognize that first responders, though always first on the scene, are often the last to seek help for themselves. It’s time to change that mindset!