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What Do I Say? Talking to Employees About Suicide

26 Jul. 2017 Posted by aadams

Julie Sharp, FEI Account Manager

One of your staff asks to speak with you privately. She reports that she’s concerned about a co-worker she worked with during a weekend shift, noting that the co-worker was upset and made comments about “not being able take it anymore” and “wishing I wouldn’t wake up.”

You receive a forwarded email in which a staff member has stated to co-workers that it would be “better if I wasn’t around anymore.”

An employee tells you that a co-worker, a Facebook friend, has posted disturbing statements on social media about “no longer being a burden to others.”

How do you respond?

Suicide and EAP Resources

While it is normal to feel uncertain and anxious about how to respond to these challenging situations, as a manager (or co-worker) it is critical that you manage your own fears and act on the information you have been given or the observations you have made. Thankfully, you don’t have to handle it alone.

I have written previously on workplace suicide prevention practices and how preventing suicide is an organizational responsibility. One of the best options is to take advantage of your resources and call your employee assistance program (EAP) account manager. An account manager is available 24/7 and will work with you to develop a plan for resolving the situation. The account manager may consult with other colleagues regarding best practices; recommend you run the plan by your legal counsel; or coach you through having a conversation with an employee who has sent a disturbing email, among other scenarios.

Consultation with an account manager is your go-to strategy for handling situations involving potentially suicidal employees. Below are additional ideas and resources for increasing your knowledge and confidence in this area.

Recognizing (and Responding to) Suicidal Ideation

You may sometimes have a situation in which there is immediate threat of an employee suicide, which requires quick action to keep the employee safe. Please review the High-Risk Behaviors for Managers for a discussion of best practices regarding these events.

Many times, however, the threat may not be as immediate; rather, it is more passive, as illustrated in examples provided earlier. These situations too can be highly anxiety-provoking and must be addressed, although it could be less clear how to proceed. Here are some ideas that may help:

  • Train yourself to recognize the signs of a troubled employee. Check the manager resources section of your EAP website as well as online resources like recognizing
    warning signs
  • Approach the employee to get clarity about the level of the threat and determine the appropriate response. Be direct and express concern for the employee. The opening line could be something like “I received an email that…I was informed that…I have observed that…and I’m concerned about you and wondering how you are doing.” Here are some excellent resources on guidelines and specific language that you can use for these discussions.
  • Connect the employee to resources like the EAP, which partners with you when tackling these sensitive challenges. You might call the EAP with the employee, or make a suggested referral when you know an employee is having difficulty (see Guidance on Making a Suggested Referral). Take some time to review this interactive demonstration of a suggested referral.

Remember, you cannot solve the employee’s problems and it is not your job to diagnose. Use suggested referrals to maintain clear boundaries and steer clear of potential liability issues. And whenever possible, intervene early before a situation escalates into a crisis.

You don't have to be alone in handling a potentially suicidal employee. FEI offers 24/7 access to EAP account managers who can work with you to develop the best course of action.


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