employee depression, drug abuse, and suicide

Employee Substance Abuse, Depression, & Suicide

Gina KeslerDrug Abuse, Employment Screening

Depression is the number one risk factor for suicide. Substance abuse is number two. Substance abuse is a significant factor in many suicide deaths. Drug free workplace programs can help to prevent suicide.

According to a 2019 study that examined almost half a million American workers, the percentage of employees with symptoms of depression rose more than 18% from 2014 to 2018. COVID-19 increased depression symptoms another 3-fold in 2020.

There is an extremely high burden of depression among American workers. More than 20% of the American workforce experiences some form of mental disorder, and depression and common problems. But because suicidal thoughts and subsequent behavior can be difficult to identify, many supervisors and human resource professionals may not be aware of how it impacts the workplace.

Depression is a major driving force of healthcare costs and the leading diagnosis for suicidal behavior. Absenteeism levels increase when people experience high levels of distress; and suicidal behavior results in medical costs and lost productivity costs.

For example:

  • Lost earnings from suicide cost workplaces $1.3 billion per year
  • For each suicide that is prevented, an average of
  • $1,182,559 is saved, including
    $3,875 in medical expenses and
    $1,178,684 in lost productivity.

It is in the best interest of employers to prevent suicide and suicidal behaviors, in preventing suicide.

What Employers Can Do to Prevent Suicide

The workplace is the last point of sustained human contact for many of the 45,000 people who kill themselves each year in the United States. Coworkers usually have more face time than neighbors or even family members and may be able to pick up on changes in appearance, behavior, or mood. Supervisors who are trained in suicide prevention can better identify the signs and symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, drug or alcohol dependence, and other mental illnesses that can lead to suicide.

While it is evident that preventing suicide is beneficial for employees and employers, the value of creating a mentally healthy work environment goes far beyond cost savings for businesses. Supporting workers through tough times fosters a sense of loyalty that helps lift morale and retention. The promotion of mental health is an investment in a company’s greatest asset: its people.

Companies have an opportunity to give people a sense of purpose and community, both of which are psychological buffers to distress. Many businesses—especially those with drug free workplace programs in place—have built-in mechanisms for disseminating information about health risks and for linking employees to resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). The benefits of creating a culture of health and safety and preventing suicide in the workplace are substantial.

Here are some simple steps employers can take to promote mental health and prevent suicide:

  • Create a workplace that encourages communication, a sense of belonging, connectedness, and respect.
  • Define a clear no-tolerance policy for harassment, bullying, or intimidation, and ensure that the policy is communicated and enforced at all levels.
  • Make workshops or “lunch & learns” available on how to reduce stress and deal with depression and reward employees who attend.
  • Train managers and supervisors in how to identify the warning signs of suicide.
  • Identify and assist employees who may be at risk for suicide.
  • Be prepared to respond to a suicide death by having a written plan in place.

Getting Help Is Easier Than You Think

The past couple of years have been hard— fear, isolation, loss, money troubles, uncertainty about the future, arguments, division, and much more. Many of us struggle at times with feelings of sadness, anger, miscommunication, increased substance use, or other issues that have caused problems in our relationships or jobs.

Today, more and more people are recognizing that it is not only ok to get help, but it is actually a great thing to get help!

The problem is how do we get help? It may be easier than you think.

If you have a job, you can check your benefits to see if your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP) which will often include free, confidential mental health benefits.

If you have health insurance, you can call the number on your insurance card to be referred to a trusted provider in your network.

A very convenient tool is the Psychology Today website, which has the ‘Find a Therapist’ feature. You can search for a counselor that is the perfect match for you and your needs.

Your church or local faith community may also offer pastoral or religious counseling options or can refer you to a counseling ministry connected to a nearby faith community.

Originally published by The Council on Alcohol and Drugs. Used with permission.

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