Suicide in the Workplace

by Heather Ford

The suicide rate in the United States has increased to more than 33 percent within 20 years. Trends have shown a surge in workplace suicide, with the most recent count recording more than 280 deaths. Suicide is not a-spur-of-the-moment decision but is likely the result of ongoing suffering or struggle that the victim feels to be undefeatable.

The highest rates of suicide for men was reported in the construction and mining industries, while women experienced the highest suicide rates in arts, design, entertainment and sports, and media.

In the workplace, bullying is the most preventable predictor of suicide.

Characteristics of Workplace Bullying
The typical targets of workplace bullies are independent, non-confrontational and highly skilled individuals. They are motivated, excel in their work and make the bully feel threatened. The
bully realizes his or her lack of control, then acts out from a place of vulnerability and insecurity.

Principal characteristics that signify workplace bullying include:

  • Being the target of regular, unwanted social behavior
  • Mistreatment that occurs over a prolonged period of time
  • Feeling unable to escape the situation These actions happen with increasing frequency and intensity — escalating to the point where the victim no longer knows how to mitigate the treatment.

Bullying in the workplace develops a harmful environment experience and can be even more dangerous when paired with negative factors outside of work. These factors might include relationship problems, substance abuse, physical or mental health issues, or financial or legal problems.

Issues at work are just another stressor for someone who is already vulnerable through suicide because of pre-existing conditions. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that bullied targets are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who were never bullied.

Solutions for Workplace Suicide
One might suggest that the easiest and best solution for mitigating workplace suicide is to remove the target, or bully, from the environment. However, negative health effects of bullying do
not disappear immediately after the person has changed jobs, or after the behavior has stopped. The trauma and anxiety that occur in situations of consistent bullying take time to resolve.

The relationship between bullying and negative health effects has been reported to be moderated by the victim having high self-esteem, continuous social support and a lack of social anxiety.
Workplaces can encourage positive mental health and contribute to suicide prevention by implementing a series of tactics. These strategies should consist of:

  • Increasing awareness of mental health and substance use disorders
  • Encouraging individuals to seek help
  • Making it easier for workers to access behavioral health care

Opening up the conversation about mental health, behavioral care, and suicide and self-harm is necessary in order to provide access to resources and care. Beginning a dialog on these topics
reduces the stigma around seeking help. Seeking help, whether through a trusted friend, fellow peer or behavioral health center increases survival from workplace bullying.

The average person spends around 90,000 hours in his or her lifetime at work. There is no denying that work environment needs to promote health instead of being a detriment to it. Workplaces need to create an environment that fosters communication, a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Heather Ford is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in the treatment of Trauma with children and adults and is currently the director of Social Services at Destiny Springs Healthcare, which provides inpatient and outpatient treatment for adolescents, adults and geriatric patients.

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