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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: employeerecommended.com. This series of articles supports the award.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among Canadians each year. On average, 10 people die by suicide a day in Canada. More than just a major societal problem, it’s an issue every manager and employee may one day need to navigate, and that’s why it’s helpful to be educated and prepared.

Although not everyone who contemplates suicide is experiencing a mental illness, suicide is most commonly related to mental-health issues and illnesses.

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Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6-12) provides an opportunity to remind all employees and managers they can play a role in preventing suicide.

Before exploring this potentially triggering subject, if at any time you’re thinking about suicide, there’s 24/7 help, such as the Canada Suicide Prevention Service (call 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645), or Kids Help Phone (call 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868). Another good place to find local resources across the country is 211.ca. Or, if these aren’t top-of-mind and you’re in a time of need, call 911 or go to a local emergency department.

Awareness

Supporting a peer who is in crisis in the workplace begins by being clear on your role. Your role is never to become the counsellor or crisis worker. Your role is to be interested in supporting a peer you are concerned may be thinking about suicide. Your questions may uncover a risk, at which time your role is to support this individual to get professional assistance.

Despite the prevalence of suicide among youth and young adults, the highest rates of suicide are among individuals aged 40 to 59. In addition, more than 75 per cent of suicides involve men, but women attempt suicide three to four times more often. This suggests many people who are working today are struggling.

Accountability

The stigma toward mental-health problems is one of the most significant contributing factors to why people who experience suicidal ideation or crisis resist seeking help.

One way to reduce stigma is for employers and employees to talk openly about suicide by asking questions and making a commitment to learn what can be done to support peers in need.

Normalizing the conversation is key. Just changing how you talk about mental health and suicide, and encouraging others to do the same, can lead to positive change that could help individuals facing mental health challenges feel comfortable seeking support. For example, the term “commit” used when referring to suicide is seen as stigmatizing, because commit is a term commonly associated with a criminal act.

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You don’t need to be an expert to help reduce suicide risk in the workplace. You do need to be clear by caring, supporting and referring to professional support that can help to prevent suicide.

Action

Employers can play an important role in prevention of suicide by providing employees with resources and training on what suicide is and what to do if you or a peer feels suicidal (e.g., employee and families assistance programs, call 911, go to emergency, call a crisis line).

Training can help prepare you to have conversations about suicide. A number of resources are available to help people with and without lived experience to start conversations and support others experiencing mental health and addictions issues.

Branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association and other community-based mental health and addictions agencies offer training programs such as Mental Health First Aid, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), and safeTALK, all of which teach skills and tactics of varying intensities that help you support someone you know who is experiencing mental health problems or may be in crisis.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.

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