First step to preventing a suicide: Ask the question

Amy Weitzel
Amy Weitzel

In taking the applied suicide intervention skills training offered by the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation, I was struck by how hard it was to ask a simple question: Are you thinking about suicide? And this was just practice with a fellow participant. The stigma surrounding the conversation must be eliminated from our culture.

The truth of the matter is that people from all walks of life — those in the grocery store, at the coffee shop and crossing the street — sometimes struggle and contemplate suicide.

What about our co-workers? We spend most of our waking hours at work and get to know our co-workers well. This makes it natural for co-workers and supervisors to notice when someone is struggling emotionally. But because of the antiquated notion of keeping work and personal lives separate, co-workers and supervisors are unsure how to help.

First, it’s important to recognize work-life integration has become a strategic requirement. It’s nearly impossible to leave your personal problems behind when you go to work and vice versa. Human resource professionals and business leaders should embrace the concept work and personal life are integrated and offer benefits to help strengthen that integration: comprehensive employee assistance programs, flexible schedules, on-site day care, open vacation time and telecommuting.

Second, it’s important to recognize supervisors often constitute the first line of defense when an employee is struggling. Organizations should prepare supervisors to recognize and assist struggling employees. Educate supervisors on the benefits available to employees, including health insurance or counseling through their EAP.

Finally, it is important to create a culture within the organization that allows supervisors and employees to reach out to those who are struggling. Educate employees to look for signs of people considering suicide.

If employees think a co-worker could be contemplating suicide, the single most important thing to do is also the most uncomfortable thing to do: ask. Are you thinking about suicide? Are you thinking about harming yourself?

Come right out and ask. People are usually relieved someone notices.

A recent blog addresses the case of Kevin Hines, who survived a suicide attempt by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Hines said he just wanted one person on the bridge to notice he was in pain and to care. He also said he regretted the decision to jump  from the moment his hands left the railing.

If a person confirms they’re thinking about harming themselves, keep them safe and be there for them. Let them know they aren’t alone. Then help them connect. Find a crisis counselor in the area that can see them immediately. Your EAP can help you. If a counselor isn’t immediately available, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

Finally, follow up. Show the person you care and are there for them.

To compete for the best employees and retain the employees you already have, businesses must foster  strong work-life integration. Part of that includes assisting employees who are struggling. You can do this by adopting policies that not only support employees, but  also train employees and supervisors to support each other.

To find out even more about preventing suicide, check out the applied suicide intervention skills training or brief suicide intervention training available through the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation. For additional information, visit www.suicidepreventionfoundation.org.

One Response to "First step to preventing a suicide: Ask the question"

  1. David Lawson   September 28, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Totally agree. Asking the question is important.