Preventing suicides at workplace

In our last article, we dealt with the issue of increasing suicides amongst students in India. Turns out it doesn’t get better once people start going to work. According to a news article in The Times of India dated 5th September 2022, “around 50 people in India died by suicide a week owing to “career problems” or professional issues at their workplaces, as per the latest data on suicides”. A state-wise analysis for 2021 shows that five states – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Assam – account for more than two-third (1,766) of all such cases in the country with Maharashtra reporting 677 and Karnataka 480 deaths. The rest of the country accounted for 827 cases together. According to law enforcement, categorisation of such cases is usually done on the basis of suicide notes or investigations. 

There might be multiple cases why professional issues can cause suicides or attempt to suicide. Like:

  • Lack of employment opportunities according to a person’s education or experience leads to unemployment or under-employment, which can cause depression, frustration, self-esteem issues and a host of other problems. 
  • Those with jobs that pay decent salaries are used to a certain lifestyle and enjoy a status in society. A threat to this can trigger anxiety, depression. If that’s not addressed, the lingering risk of suicide could turn fatal in some cases.
  • Additionally, workplace stress is believed to be the leading factor (along with interpersonal issues) in suicides when employees have little or no control over high job demands. 
  • Most employees who attempt or die by suicide have mental health or psychological disorders that haven’t been addressed. When a disgruntled employee loses a promotion or gets fired, it can become a final straw on top of pre-existing stressors and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or drug use. 
  • One study by the Institute of Health (U.S.A) examined the chronic impact of work on suicide. It found that a sample of 63 employees who completed suicide had depression and anxiety, excessive debt, higher impulsivity and poorer social support, compared to a control group of 112 non-suicidal employees.

All of this is quite gruesome and saddening to read, but that is never the purpose of our articles. Let’s delve into how to address the concerns that may cause suicidality in the workplace.

In the previous article, we discussed some signs that can help us detect risk of suicidality in individuals. Those are common for employees as well. Apart from that, changes in work performance, attendance, and withdrawal from colleagues and refusing plans might also be worthy of addressing. Particular attention should be paid to people who are losing their jobs.

Some things that one can do if they are concerned about their colleagues:

  • Express empathy and concern, encourage them to talk, and listen without judgment.
  • Ask if there is anyone they trust, with whom they would like to talk to.
  • Encourage them to reach out to therapy or counselling services,  inside the organization, if available, or otherwise outside the organization, and offer to take the first step with them.
  • If your colleague has attempted to indicate that they are about to intentionally harm themselves, remove access to means and do not leave them alone. Seek immediate support from HR, if possible, or medical/psychiatric help outside of the organization.

If you’re a manager or employer, these are things that you can do to take care of your employees against suicide.

  • Provide information sessions for your staff on mental health and suicide prevention. You can contact Sentier Mind to avail these services. Ensure that all your employees know what resources are available for support, both within the organization and in the local community.
  • Create a work environment in which colleagues feel comfortable talking about problems that have an impact on their ability to do their job effectively and supporting each other during difficult times.
  • Become familiar with relevant legislation and office policies, to protect your workers as well the organisation against legal liabilities.

If you recognise signs of risks within anyone you work with, it is absolutely your duty to reach out to them, it might just as well save their lives. However, please ensure that the way you do it doesn’t offend them or cause them discomfort. Maintain and respect their privacy during this difficult time.

Written by Rima Chowdhury

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