By Danielle Bearden | Human Resources Manager at Lever1
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and HR professionals are in a unique position to help employers recognize the warning signs and provide resources for outreach and education.
Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. It is critical to recognize the warning signs and encourage employees to seek help. Since an HR professional or supervisor may be the initial person to identify an at-risk employee, it’s important to educate individuals about what to look for.
Warning signs may include reckless behavior, withdrawal from family or friends, or rage. Consider preparing HR personnel and supervisors with suicide prevention awareness training and educational opportunities to learn more about how they can help.
If an employee appears to be planning to take action immediately, local emergency authorities should be contacted because employers are usually not qualified to handle the situation directly. If there are doubts as to whether the threat is immediate, the HR professional should contact local services, such as an employee assistance program, suicide hotline or hospital. Given the risks of failing to take action, it is best to seek professional assistance as soon as possible.
It’s important to note that if the threat comes to you through second-hand information, it may still be necessary to investigate the situation in which it arose before taking action. The Society for Human Resource Management states “though unlikely, it is possible the comment was a casual remark, made in poor taste, in reaction to excessive work-related demands that may be addressed between the employee and the supervisor. Assure the person who provided the information that the employee’s safety is more important than maintaining confidentiality.”
Though it may seem appropriate, resist the urge to force the employee to take time off or to require fitness-for-duty certification in response to remarks involving suicide. Though it is possible the employee has a condition that would fall under the coverage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it is best to refrain from making such an assumption.
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.