As companies continue to dole out corporate wellness and on-site stress management programs, the number of workplace suicides across the country is at its recorded peak, according to a figure in a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Highlighted by the Washington Post, the December 2019 report notes that while workplace fatalities have decreased, the rate of suicides rose 11 percent between 2017 and 2018, reaching a total of 304. And the Bureau adds that even that figure is likely an underestimate.
Two highly publicized cases in 2019 brought increased awareness to workplace (and workplace-related) suicide, specifically caused by extremely bad working conditions: In September, a Facebook employee killed himself in the company’s headquarters; the company told at least one employee not to discuss the incident. And in December, the former CEO of French telecom company Orange was sentenced to four months in jail, after a court ruled his downsizing tactics caused the suicides of 19 employees between 2008–2009 (though advocates said the number of employee suicides is more than double that number).
The report doesn’t try to explain why more people are killing themselves at the places where they work. But if the dismal success rate of current workplace wellness programs is any indication, companies are going to have to do a lot more than offer mindfulness seminars and meditation space to help employees maintain good mental health.
As the Washington Post reports, employers are flummoxed: “In the wake of such trauma, executives often grapple with what to do: How to counsel and support co-workers and those who witness the death? What to say publicly and how much to disclose internally?” Corporate risk management and suicide prevention experts has spurred companies to consider how they can better support their employees. “The hope is someday, mental health will be a routine part of wellness programs at companies, as routine as getting your flu shot or blood pressure taken," Colleen L. Carr, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, told the Post.
Recent survey data and work from advocacy groups suggests this is already happening. In response to this issue, several leading suicide prevention groups released the first National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention in 2019, along with a website: WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com. The site offers, among other things, a list of “Key Areas for a Healthy Workplace,” such as “having generous sick leave,” “zero tolerance for bullying or discrimination,” “well-being checks,” and other high-level basic ideas about how companies can treat their employees like people.
And a 2019 survey identified a slow but steady increase in workplace mental health programs: “As U.S. workers continue to report high levels of stress and anxiety, employers are beginning to offer more benefits and solutions specifically targeted at increasing mental wellness.” Whether those “solutions” include practical measures, like good health insurance, generous leave policies, fair wages, and a culture that genuinely supports tending to one’s mental health—or skip that in favor of gimmicks like giving your low-paid employees free meditation app subscriptions—remains unclear.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.
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