In part two of our suicide prevention blog, we look into what actions a company can take in developing a culture that is positive, caring, and supports overall health and wellness. Mental health conditions can lead to other conditions including substance abuse issues and influences an employee’s professional and personal life. Since we are around colleagues for such a large part of our week (usually eight hours a day or more), it is important to pay attention to our colleagues’ health and wellbeing.
Looking at resources provided by the Alliance for Construction Industry Suicide Prevention, they offer these additional tips for developing a culture aware of mental health concerns and preventing suicides:
4. Build a Caring Culture
Many construction companies have already committed to fostering safety at all times, but few have taken mental wellness into account. A common aspirational goal in the safety culture is "Zero Incidents.” Yet, when many people consider ZERO SUICIDES as a goal, they are met with doubt that it could ever be so. What if we believed it were possible and did everything in our power to get there? What other number of suicides is acceptable?
In order to build a caring culture, workplaces need to integrate psychological safety into overall health and wellness priorities:
- Develop an awareness theme for the year and weave it into many aspects of the company culture. For example, some companies have used "You can’t fix your mental health with duct tape” and drive their employees to the humorous and effective Man Therapy program.
- Participate in awareness campaigns throughout the year.
- Publish educational articles.
- Create opportunities for social networks to form. The definition of a true support person is one with whom you feel comfortable being vulnerable. This level of trust will only develop if the company culture values this support and provides safe opportunities for connection. Retreats, family/staff picnics, volunteer projects, fun outings, etc., all help employees begin to develop healthy bonds and see each other as a whole person rather than just a member of the work team.
- Develop a "Buddy Check” program that goes beyond physical safety. A formal peer support program is one of the best ways to promote a caring culture. Many military and first responder communities have discovered this type of program is often the key to building a link in the chain of survival, especially among their stoic, "tough guy” cultures where men in particular are reluctant to seek professional mental health services.
5. Promote Employee Assistance Programs and Other Mental Health Services
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are a valuable asset to the workplace. They help employers by offering such services as psychological assessment and short-term counseling, managing critical incidents, and conducting "FITNESS FOR DUTY” evaluations. EAP providers can be critical consultants when an employer is concerned about a staff member’s safety and can help develop reintegration plans for employees on medical leave due to a mental health problem.
6. Screen for Mental Health Conditions and Substance Misuse
Just like we screen for blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index, we can also screen for things like depression, anxiety, and alcohol misuses. Self-screening often provides important early identification for employees who are struggling and wondering "How bad is it?” As with most public health problems, early detection of mental disorders is critical to obtaining the best prognosis and subsequent treatment.
7. Train Supervisors and Others on How to Have Difficult Conversations
In addition to the widespread trainings of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that began in the mid-20th century, the core of CPR’s success was an evidence-based protocol, behavioral rehearsal, and instructor feedback. The result? Bystander Interventions have increased substantially as people felt capable and charged with the responsibility to intervene. Consequently, the survival rate also increased. Before CPR, people who witnessed a life-threatening heart attack or drowning looked on helplessly; today, many know what to do and act quickly to save a life.
Just like CPR, real suicide prevention training goes beyond knowledge of risk factors and warning signs. Participants must practice the art of active listening, ask difficult questions like ("Are you thinking of suicide?”), and refer people to qualified resources. These skills need to be refreshed on a regular basis so that employees feel confident and competent. The goal is to empower the workforce to step in when someone is just starting to become overwhelmed or show initial signs of mental health concerns, and compassionately connect them to support at this early stage.
8. Promote the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) represents the prevailing network of hotlines today. While it’s used by people in crisis, more often it’s people who support those in crisis who call to create a safety plan. This tool is one of the most cost effective ways employers can promote safety.
Calls to this national toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), are funneled through a network to local call centers across the U.S. During calls, the crisis call counselors listen empathically and empower callers to make decisions that resolve the crisis. They offer information and resources, and help callers craft plans for how they will prevent, cope with, or get help for suicidal behavior.
9. Manage Behavioral Health Crises in the Workplace
When an employee is experiencing a mental health crisis, there are many things employers can do to help them get well:
- Work collaboratively with your team.
- Determine and communicate the level of privacy and confidentiality.
- If employee performance is perceived to be affected by mental health or suicidal behavior, employers must address the performance issue the same way in which they would if there were no mental health issues present. However, a conversation about underlying distress may lead to alternative solutions to the problem that might be more fruitful than just addressing the behavior.
- Review your policies.
- Reduce access to lethal means when suicidal thoughts are intense.
- Have a plan in place to provide extra support.
10. Provide Effective and Compassionate Grief and Trauma Support after a Suicide Death
While preparing for a worst case scenario is difficult, it is even more difficult to react in the middle of a crisis for which you did not prepare.
Mental health is not as easy to talk about as our physical health and we need to create a positive environment in order for people to feel comfortable in this discussion. Even small steps to improve the culture and access to information can have a positive impact on our industry.
One Team. One Vision. One Goal. – Everyone Goes Home Safe!