Suicide prevention: Can employers play a role?

May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. This recognition is a way to build an understanding of the importance of mental health. One of the most notable efforts for health providers, schools, and family members is suicide prevention. In 2022, nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. took their own lives, up 3% from the previous year.

When it comes to recognizing suicidal ideation and providing resources, everyone needs to be involved, including any type of employer. That's because employees spend a significant amount of their lives at work and may show signs of distress there—symptoms that could go unnoticed at home. Also, a workplace may be where they access the most resources related to their health, including their mental health.

In addition, suicide prevention includes catching any mental health issues early, when they can be addressed effectively before suicidal thoughts even start. With all these aspects in mind, here are some strategies employers should consider for increasing their efforts in suicide prevention:

Recognize the issue

This month is all about awareness, and suicide prevalence should be part of that. Here are some stats that highlight how suicide can affect any workforce:

Just because your employees might seem content, it doesn't mean they're immune to mental health concerns. The first step in offering suicide prevention is recognizing that the issue can affect anyone.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration emphasizes that employers can play a role in preventing suicides through the development of a supportive environment. This includes providing access to mental health resources and being prepared when warning signs are observed.

Know the warning signs

Some of the signs of distress can seem subtle or even minor, such as frequent work complaints or comments like, "I wish I weren't here" or "Nothing matters," according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Other warning signs include:

  • Aggressive behavior
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and community
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Particularly alarming are indications that someone is getting ready to implement a suicide plan, NAMI adds. For example, they might start giving away possessions, focusing on personal paperwork like making sure life insurance is up to date, making a will, or changing beneficiaries on retirement accounts.

Although these are all typical actions for anyone trying to be more organized, they should be viewed within the context of how a person is behaving otherwise, NAMI suggests. For example, sudden improvement after a period of depression, anxiety, and agitation might indicate that someone has made the decision to end their life and has a plan in place, leading to a feeling of relief.

Post emergency information

Mental health information should be included in bulletin board materials, online employee resources, or health insurance updates. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress.

Anyone can call, text, or chat, and services are available in Spanish as well as English. Info on 988 could be posted in several locations throughout a corporate campus, warehouse, factory, construction site, or other work areas.

The U.S. Department of Labor suggests that other efforts for reducing suicide risk include:

  • Implementing mental health programs
  • Fostering a culture of understanding around mental health issues and encouraging open dialogue about mental health to destigmatize the issue
  • Training managers and staff to recognize signs of mental distress and potential suicidal ideation
  • Offering mental health days and access to mental health professionals

When it comes to supporting employee health, that means all aspects of wellness, including recognizing distress and being willing to step in to help. Creating more openness around mental health and sharing resources can go a long way toward letting employees know they're seen and supported.

Additional mental health and wellness offerings 

As part of our comprehensive mental health coverage, we offer the following behavioral health solutions:

Optum behavioral health benefits are available to all Mass General Brigham Health Plan members. Through Optum, you can search for providers who offer outpatient services, day programs, residential programs, autism care and support, substance and recovery services, and more.

Lyra is available to many Mass General Brigham Health Plan members, enabling you to securely and confidentially seek clinically proven mental health services, find high-quality providers tailored to your needs, and book appointments quickly with a therapist or coach via video or in person.

Learn more by visiting

Stay connected with Mass General Brigham Health Plan by following @MGBHealthPlan on InstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook.



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