We have seen a large increase in suicides among employees. Research shows that the rates of suicide have increased substantially for people between 35 and 64 years old. On average, there was about a 28% increase. Even more striking, the increase in males between 50 and 59 years old was about 48%, and the increase in women between 60 and 64 years old was about 60%. Overall, the rate of suicide in men remained about 3 times higher than the rate in women. The increase in suicide rate was spread throughout all regions of the country.
The authors of this report, Eugene Rubin MD, PhD and Charles Zorumski MD, speculate that the increased rate of suicide observed in middle-aged people may result from several factors. They note recent economic pressures, a stressor that may be associated with increased suicides. They also suggest that the increase may partially result from a “cohort effect,” reflecting the fact that individuals born 35 to 64 years ago also had an increased suicide rate when they were younger. It may be that this group (“cohort”) has an increased suicide risk that will track with them throughout life. Why some cohorts seem to carry a higher rate of suicide throughout their lives is unknown. Finally, the authors note that opiate pain medications have become more readily available and overdosing on such medications can be lethal. Perhaps, the lethality of this group of drugs may help to explain the increased deaths by suicide, given that chronic pain disorders are large contributors to disability in 35 to 64 year olds.
What can managers do to help? For many managers, it’s a vague line of when to get involved to meet with an employee and share your concerns or not. Many do not want to get involved with subordinates’ personal lives for good reason or they can do the opposite and get too involved. They ride up and down on their emotional roller coaster, which can be time consuming and exhausting. There is also the chance that the employee is being gamey.
However, when it comes to possible suicide risk, here are some guidelines to consider:
- Change in behavior: If the employee has been a good employee for several years and suddenly or slowly, he/she becomes more sullen, isolates from others, performs poorly and is quick to anger. Then, I recommend meeting with the employee to share your concerns. Offer the EAP services and emphasize that they are free and confidential. We have had many employees state that the EAP saved their life because we were able to get them the professional help that they need.
- The employee is missing work – If the employee who used to always be on time is now tardy, leaves work early, is gone for unexplained periods of time, and his/her work performance and/or hygiene is declining, there is a good chance the employee has a substance abuse problem. This is also where the manager should express concerns and possibly do a drug screen. This too can prevent a suicide because continuing to ignore it and letting it continue is not doing the employee any favors. We have worked with many employees who are actually thankful that they “got caught” and are now drug-free. We often hear the managers say, “I can’t believe the change. He looks like a million bucks!”
- Recent loss or death or suicidal comments – If an employee loses a spouse to divorce or death, then that is a very vulnerable time. It’s best to check in with the employee sporadically and ask how he/she is doing. Anytime an employee makes a vague statement such as, “Life isn’t worth it anymore” or “I wish I wouldn’t wake up” should be taken seriously and the EAP can assess whether this is a temporary feeling/thought or is this a real desire or plan to end his/her life. 9 times out of 10 the employees who make these statements have no intention of harming themselves. It’s good to take them seriously and to the one person who is serious about harming themselves, you may have just saved his/her life and saved the company from a lot of heartache and guilt. Any direct suicidal statement with a plan such as, “I going to go home and shoot myself” or “I’m planning on taking a bottle of pills tonight” should be addressed immediately and the police/ambulance should be called to get him the emergency help that he/she needs. The EAP counselors deal with these kind of issues on a daily basis and it’s always good to speak to one of our Consultation Specialists about these serious issues.
Remember: Never hesitate to call the EAP with any questions you may have about these issues – we are open 24/7.
When you meet with an employee, it is always best to hand him/her an EAP brochure so that they have our name, phone number, and other information they may need to give us a call. It is important to realize that the vast majority of suicides (more than 90%) are associated with major psychiatric disorders. Stressors can contribute, but when they do, it is typically in the context of a concurrent psychiatric disorder. Research has clearly demonstrated that many persons who take their own lives do so during an episode of clinical depression.
The increasing rate of suicide in middle-aged people should remind all of us to be alert to the development of depressive symptoms and substance use in our friends, family members, and colleagues. Symptoms such as withdrawn behavior, a change in self-esteem, decreased interest in pleasurable activities, unintended changes in weight or appetite, and sleep pattern changes shouldn’t be ignored. These might be symptoms of clinical depression or some other medical disorder. If a person shows depressive symptoms or indicates thoughts of suicide, he/she needs psychiatric help.
Zorumski, C., & Rubin, E. (2014, January 8). Large Increase in Suicide Rates Among 35 to 64 Year Olds. Psychology Today. Retrieved May 16, 2016, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/demystifying-psychiatry/201401/large-increase-in-suicide-rates-among-35-64-year-olds