Suicide prevention efforts good business

For those of us who’ve lost a family member or dear friend to suicide, that headline sounds callous and hard-hearted. “What kind of person is thinking about the bottom line in the face of such tragedy?”

I think it might be a prudent and courageous business leader — a person who recognizes a company’s employees are its most valuable resource and understands that protecting that resource equals good business practice. Bringing suicide prevention strategies into the workplace is an investment in the future and makes good business sense. Let me explain.

The Society for Human Resource Management estimates it costs $3,500 to replace one $8 per hour employee when all costs — recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training and reduced productivity — are considered.  That means that minimally Mesa County businesses incurred $119,000 in 2011 to replace employees who died by suicide. Other sources suggest it costs 30 percent to

50 percent of their annual salaries to replace entry level employees, 150 percent of middle-level employees and up to 400 percent for specialized, high-level employees. Those who died by suicide in Mesa County in 2011 represented a broad range of the work force, including high-level employees. 

Since depression underpins 90 percent of all suicides, we ought to take a look at the economic toll depression takes in the workplace. The National Institutes of Mental Health estimate that depression costs $23 billion in lost workdays every year. According to the National Committee for Quality Assurance, depression results in more days of disability than such chronic health conditions as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes. Depression remains a hidden drain on a company’s economic well-being due to the stigma that surrounds the illness. Depression goes under-reported and under-treated with costly results. 

So, back to that bottom line: Wouldn’t it make good sense to promote emotional health in the workplace knowing it will result in improved work quality? And, as a safety measure, wouldn’t it be prudent to provide training for employees to create an early warning system for those struggling with life issues? 

If we’re smart here in Mesa County — and we are — we’d follow the good example of the Air Force, which began to address suicide in 1996. The Air Force has been the most successful of all of the military branches in stemming the incidence of suicide. Within their military family they have heightened community awareness of suicide and suicide risk factors and created a safety net that provides protection and adds support for those in trouble.

A contributing factor to the Air Force success was the early engagement of leadership. When a four-star general says “jump,” there are folks who jump. It’s how the military works. The Air Force chief of staff and four-star generals initiated a cultural transformation within the Air Force that has resulted in lives saved. They communicated and supported the idea that effective leaders help their people seek care early and are instrumental in removing barriers and stigma associated with needing care.

Leadership support is so essential to our suicide prevention efforts here in Mesa County that the Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation will host a business and community leader town hall Breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m. Sept. 19 at the Colorado Mesa University Center.  In the civilian world, chief executive officers assume the role of generals and give the necessary blessing for cultural transformation to occur.  At the breakfast, we’ll provide information on the picture of suicide in Mesa County, showcase some tools we think will help in our efforts and highlight some prevention strategies. 

The Air Force developed a training plan that encouraged shared community responsibility.  “We care for our own” moved suicide prevention to a communal issue rather than just a professional one.

Level one training was identified as “buddy care,” offered in the belief that those closest to a struggling individual will notice subtle changes in behavior that might signal a crisis is brewing. The training provides a basic awareness of suicide risk factors and identifies resources available for at-risk individuals.  The early identification of risk leads to quicker and perhaps less costly treatment options.

Level two “gatekeeper” training equipped squadron supervisors with the tools necessary to act as a gateway to help those in need. It is a natural complement to the “buddy care” concept because it brings a new level of resources available in the community.

Following the lead of the Air Force, business leaders could take advantage of a number of programs already available in Mesa County. Buddy trainings available in Mesa County include:

Working Minds: Suicide Prevention in the Workplace. Thus program is designed to educate and create awareness of suicide prevention, create a forum for dialogue and critical thinking about workplace mental health challenges and promote help-seeking and help-giving in the workplace

QPR — Question, persuade and refer. This program is for the general public and teaches participants the warning signs for suicide and the three-step QPR method. The training is easily adapted to a variety of settings, including the workplace, and offers an excellent follow up to Working Minds.

Level two “gatekeeper” training is available with Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST for short). Developed in Canada and used by all of the armed services, ASIST is a two-day, interactive workshop that prepares caregivers to provide suicide first-aid interventions.  ASIST complements and strengthens an organization’s proactive efforts to reduce suicide risk. 

I’m looking for a few folks in the business community who recognize the bottom line means more than dollars. I want people who recognize that a company’s employees are its most valuable resource. I’ve got the programs available. I need people with the will to be part of the strategy that will help reduce the number of people of all ages who die each year in our midst. 

If you’re interested in the business leaders’ breakfast or in any of our training programs, please contact me at 683-6626 or

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