Working Together to Prevent Suicide Post-Pandemic

Working Together to Prevent Suicide Post-Pandemic

Every year, 160 million people contemplate suicide and 800,000 of these people die by suicide (Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, 2021). Every year on September 10th, we recognize World Suicide Prevention Day in order to promote awareness about the devastating impacts of suicide and educate each other on the actions we can take to prevent it. This year’s theme is Creating Hope Through Action. By working together, even small actions can make a difference to prevent suicide. Employers and employees can learn the warning signs, learn what to do in a crisis situation, and spread awareness to end the stigma in their workplaces.

Mental Health Awareness

There are several different reasons why an individual may take their own life. A commonly known contributing factor to death by suicide is mental illness. Approximately one half of all individuals who take their own life have had a diagnosed mental illness. While the other half may also meet the criteria for mental illness, they haven’t been diagnosed. Other contributing factors to death by suicide include life stressors, such as financial or relationship issues.

Suicide and COVID-19

Based on research from previous pandemics and national emergencies, we can expect that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 will last much longer than the physical impact. Some of the long-term effects of events like SARS, Chernobyl, and Hurricane Katrina included post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and insomnia (BBC, 2020). An analysis of the psychological toll on healthcare providers found that psychological distress can last up to three years after an outbreak (The BMJ, 2020). Those who have faced job loss, isolation, and uncertainty are also at a higher risk of mortality in the future—one study projects that as many as 75,000 people will die from substance abuse and suicide as a result of COVID-19 over the next nine years if policymakers fail to invest in solutions to help heal the nation (Well Being Trust & The Robert Graham Center, 2020).

Fortunately, despite an increase of calls to crisis centres over the course of the pandemic and a reported decline in Canadians’ overall mental health, the rates of suicide did not increase compared to previous years (The Lancet, 2021). Experts suggest that the collective actions of the government and communities, known as the “coming together” phenomenon, may have lowered the risk of suicide by normalizing the experience of distress (Taylor and Francis Online, 2021). Potential protective factors include hope, resilience, purpose, and belongingness (2021). An increase of crisis calls also suggests that more people are reaching out, which can also offset suicide rates, says Robert Olson, a research librarian with the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CBC, 2021). While the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still being researched, research shows that distress levels remain high and that the pandemic is still a challenge to people’s mental health. Proactive efforts will continue to be imperative in the fight against suicide.

What Can Employers Do?

Prevention and intervention strategies are the most proactive way to decrease death by suicide. Having an open-door policy and a judgment-free work environment are important to allow employees to feel comfortable talking about mental health in the workplace. It’s helpful for employers to provide resources for employees, such as health benefits related to mental health, resiliency training, and education on the warning signs of suicidal ideation. Surveys show that the most common resources employees want are mental health training and a more open and supportive work culture that supports mental health (Mindshare Partners, 2019).

Employers can invest in employee health by intervening positively in the workplace in the following ways:

  • Learn the warning signs and look for signs of distress. These include suicidal ideation, substance abuse, expression of purposelessness and hopelessness, withdrawal, anger, recklessness and a significant change in mood.
  • Develop strong psychological health programs. Prioritize your team’s mental health just as much as their physical health.
  • Check in regularly. Let your employees know you are accessible and that you care about their mental health. Listen to your employees with empathy, attention, and respect.
  • Offer mental health resources and training. Provide employees virtual training on ways to improve mental health, including programs on resiliency, reducing mental health stigma, and manager mental health training.
  • Make a referral. You can request the assistance of an Occupational Therapist to help employees find tools and strategies through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

What Can Employees Do?

  • Build resiliency – physical, emotional, social, thinking and spiritual resiliency.
  • Practice gratitude. Focus on the things in your life that you are grateful for.
  • Practice mindfulness. Try grounding techniques and being present in the moment.
  • Take time for things that matter to you – hobbies, reading, getting out in nature, etc.
  • Engage in social interactions, laugh with friends, and spend time with loved ones.
  • Participate in physical resiliency activities such as exercise, sports, or going for walks.
  • Contact your emotional supports when you are going through a challenge or have experienced trauma.
  • Learn new ways to examine your experiences and find strategies to manage any anxiety or mood changes.
  • Ask for help. Call a distress line, call your EAP, or talk to your health professional if you are distressed or thinking of taking your own life or not feeling yourself.

In the event where you believe an employee or co-worker are at immediate risk of suicide, reach out for help right away:

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting has Occupational Therapists for assisting with managing mental health in the workplace. We’re in a new era of inspiring positive change surrounding mental health in the workplace, and we want to talk about it, understand it, and be open about it!

Gowan Consulting can assist with auditing for risks and implementing the psychological health and safety in the workplace standards. Our Occupational Therapists can provide training to your managers on supporting mental health in the workplace and provide training for employees on mental health resiliency.

Training Opportunities

For more on all we have to offer, contact us or make a referral today. We want to help make the difference in your healthy business.

Works Cited

WSPD 2021 Toolkit, Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, 2021, https://suicideprevention.ca/resources/Documents/WSPD%202021%20Toolkit%20FINAL%20v3.pdf

“Suicide trends in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic: an interrupted time-series analysis of preliminary data from 21 countries,” Prof. Jane Pirkis et al., The Lancet, April 13, 2021, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(21)00091-2/fulltext

“Suicide Risk and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic: One Year On,” Mirk Sinyor et al., Taylor and Francis Online, August 23, 2021, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13811118.2021.1955784

“Many assumed suicides would spike in 2020. So far, the data tells a different story,” Robson Fletcher, CBC News, February 8, 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/suicides-alberta-bc-saskatchewan-canada-2020-no-increase-1.5902908

Covid-19 has increased anxiety for many of us, and experts warn a sizable minority could be left with mental health problems that outlast the pandemic, Maddy Savage, BBC, October 28, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201021-coronavirus-the-possible-long-term-mental-health-impacts

Occurrence, prevention, and management of the psychological effects of emerging virus outbreaks on healthcare workers: rapid review and meta-analysis, Steve Kisely et al., The BMJ, doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1642 

How much do we actually know about workplace mental health?, Mindshare Partners, 2019, https://www.mindsharepartners.org/mentalhealthatworkreport

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