In the workplace, ripples of suicide are deep and wide, by Bob Vecchiotti

Statistics on suicide rates in the US are alarming.

Each year, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 50,000 people die by suicide. In 2016, the highest suicide rate — 19.7 per 100,000 individuals — was among adults between ages 45 and 54. These are normally very productive years.

There’s growing concern over the suicide rate of 13 per 100,000 for the current population of adolescents and young adults. Perhaps the long years of conflict and repeated military tours are one of the contributing factors. In 2016, 51 percent of all suicides by firearm. There are no complete data on suicide attempts.

According to the CDC, New Hampshire’s suicide rate was the third highest in the country from 1999 to 2016. The number skyrocketed up by 48.3 percent in that period. Also, according to the CDC, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and one of just three that are increasing across the country.

The ripple effects of suicide can extend far beyond the obvious impact on friends and families. About 5 percent of suicides occur at work, and many of those who die by suicide have colleagues and co-workers that are affected by the loss. The emotional shock can linger over a workplace for a long time, and business leaders might want to consider providing counselors to support employees.

Are there signs to look for that might reduce the chances of an actual suicide whether at work or elsewhere? Obviously, there are. Some are subtle, others more evident.

The subtle signs can include evidence of a slow mood change or the occasional episode of irritability over minor incident, like spilling coffee or temporarily losing a file or personal item. A change of mood and behavior over time can be both a subtle or dramatic sign.

The other signs can be relatively evident. A co-worker may give you one of their very personal items that you never expected them to give away. You begin to wonder why and take notice. They may speak of suicide. They may have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Their irritability and anger increase. As these signs become more frequent at work, a pattern can become noticeable.

What can you do to help? The best advice is to simply be there for your co-worker. There are long-term benefits in talking and showing concern to save lives, especially of those close to you. With confidentiality and trust, the conversation can be kept going. It begins with the comment “I’ve noticed that …” followed by “Tell me more, I’m listening.” A willing ear can lead to more important conversations about coping with personal problems and perhaps prevent a suicide.

There’s a caution here of going too far, too deep and beyond your ability. Check a person’s readiness to seek professional help, knowing that the person may perceive a stigma associated with a mental illness. Continue to stand by them, especially during the holiday season, when there’s also a rise in depression.

Life is complex today, and the pressures on people are enormous. People feel trapped in their problems, there’s increased anxiety, they are tired beyond the norm and tend to feel isolated. — all the more reason to pay attention to the needs of those around you.

Dr. Bob Vecchiotti is a business psychologist and professional coach working with clients in the Monadnock Region. He can be reached at rav@leadershipexpert.com or by calling 924-2012.

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