Mental health has not always been viewed the same way as other illnesses. If someone announced they have cancer, the response would be a sympathetic outpour of support and understanding. If that same person announced they have depression or anxiety, there may be more of a “get over it” type response. Those types of responses may be one of the reasons mental health issues have not been supported the way other illnesses have, until recently.
COVID-19 was a nightmare and continues to rear its ugly head here and there. However, a positive note that stems from this pandemic is the focus on mental health and employee burnout that was there before, but now holds the attention of employers as the pandemic caused the uptick in mental health issues. There were journal articles and webinars solely focused on employee mental health during the pandemic that was not that common prior to COVID-19. Finally, the more it is discussed, the more mental health is becoming a topic that someone should not fear talking about.
Several times during the pandemic we were faced with calls from clients about employees that were showing signs of high stress, burnout, or even threats of suicide. It made my response to my clients so important to make sure I provided the right guidance on the situation. I am in human resources, not a counselor. But just because I don’t have a degree in physiology, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a plan of action in those situations. Suicide threats should always be taken seriously, and employers should have an idea of warning signs.
The following warning signs are from the National Institute of Mental Health:
The behaviors listed below are some of the signs that could indicate that someone is thinking about suicide.
• Wanting to die
• Great guilt or shame
• Being a burden to others
• Empty, hopeless, trapped, or having no reason to live
• Extremely sad, more anxious, agitated, or full of rage
• Unbearable emotional or physical pain
Changing behavior, such as:
• Making a plan or researching ways to die
• Withdrawing from friends, saying goodbye, giving away important items, or making a will
• Taking dangerous risks such as driving extremely fast
• Displaying extreme mood swings
• Eating or sleeping more or less
• Using drugs or alcohol more often
If any of these signs are identified in someone you know or work with, get help as soon as possible. So what does it mean to get help? The first response would be if the employee appears to be planning action immediately you need to contact local emergency authorities. If you are unsure if it is immediate, contact local services such as the suicide hotline, the nearby hospital, or even the employee assistance program (EAP). I also recommend that if you have an EAP program, keep that flyer posted for all to see. Also, if you are going into a difficult conversation with an employee, it is good to have those flyers as well. We may not always know what state of mind someone is in or what the trigger could be for them.
Do not give in to the urge to send the employee home to rest or make a mandatory requirement that they take PTO for downtime. You may be sending someone into an isolated home where there is no support or someone there for them. However, if an employee request PTO, it doesn’t mean we don’t’ allow it either. We need to remember that mental health is protected under the Americans with Disability Act and reasonable accommodation may look different for each individual experiencing mental health.
Here are some of my top recommendations to prepare for this event.
1. EAP Flyers/Posters - have your EAP flyer posted for all employees to see. As I recommend earlier in the post, encourage them to be part of tough conversations so employees have the flyer when they leave that meeting.
2. Additional Resources - have resources posted so that if someone is showing the signs that they may be struggling, they can reach out to professionals for help. Those are:
a. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). This is a national resource that may be accessed by anyone. If the employee is a veteran, press "1" to access the Veterans Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
b. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.
3. Get Educated - there are mental health certificates available to people that want to be prepared and with skills to handle if these types of situations arise.
4. Company Culture and Awareness - finally, make mental health awareness part of your company culture. That it is safe to talk about, the job is safe, and the company supports that diagnosis the same way they would any other illness that may happen to an employee.
This could be a very tricky situation and often leave managers and other staff unsure what to do in these situations. By creating an action plan and having conversations/training on how to handle these types of events, you may be helping to avoid a complicated and tragic event.
For a flyer to display with the Warning of Suicide, please click here.
If you have further questions or would like to learn more about OmniaHR services, please reach out to us today for a free consultation.