7 Do’s and Don’ts if an employee is in danger of harming themselves

This article is about suicide. If you are thinking of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) for help.

Construction space has increasingly focused on mental health in recent months, and for good reason: The aftermath of the pandemic has left many workers grappling with issues such as grief, financial distress, fear, and isolation. A mental health provider reported an increase of 2,000% for employees who have access to telemedicine between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.

Companies recently launched a number of programs designed to improve the mental health of their employees by free advice to a Company-wide non-working week to Gamification. But what about the unfortunate times when an employee doesn’t get the help they need on time and is in the middle of a crisis?

On June 9, Terri Solomon, co-founder of Littler Mendelson’s New York office and co-chair of the Workplace Safety and Health Practice Group, and Marc McElhaney, CEO and Director of Professional Services at Critical Response Associates, attended an XpertHR webinar such as Employers can best cope with mental crises in the office.

1. Treat the risk of suicide as a potential safety threat to others – not just the employee.

While suicidal individuals are rarely violent, the opposite is not necessarily the case. “It’s easy when you look at the mass murders [at work], the active rifle incidents that have happened in this country … every one of them has involved a suicidal person, “said McElhaney.

Employers are obliged to ensure a safe working environment for all employees. Threats or warning signs of suicide not only threaten the safety of the person concerned, but can also pose an office-wide security risk. Make sure your Emergency action plan is up to date and intervene early if you see warning signs.

2. Follow your gut instinct.

Contrary to popular belief, Solomon and McElhaney said that people at risk of suicide rarely “just freak out”. Significant behavior changes and warning signs are almost always associated with the possibility of self-harm. Look out for signs such as increased alcohol consumption, lack of motivation, lack of communication, problems with presence, increased aggression or excitement, changes in performance, a messy appearance, and poor concentration. Also, keep track of significant emotional changes, particularly depression, tears, and mood swings.

Trust your gut instinct, said Solomon and McElhaney. When you feel a major change, ask the rep what is going on. In fact, if you have strong suspicions, it’s okay to ask the employee if they’re considering suicide. “[For] most people are very embarrassed, it feels very uncomfortable, and there is a lot of resistance, “said McElhaney.” But I do say that a lot of people who are contemplating suicide would like to be asked. That gives them the opportunity to open up. “

3. Don’t just send the employee home.

For employers who are reluctant to get involved in their employees’ private lives, it might be tempting to simply send a troubled employee home for a day – or for an extended period – and hope for the best. This can be a huge mistake, according to the panelists.

“The first thing you have to do is make sure that person is safe,” said Solomon. Look up the employee’s emergency contact and let them know that the employee is thinking or threatening to commit suicide. Wait for that person to come and pick them up. If the employee works remotely, the employer can turn on the emergency contact or, in an emergency, call the police and request a social check.

But if you know that emergency contact is out of date and no longer good with the employee – an ex-wife in a bitter divorce, for example – try not to place the employee at risk in that person’s care. Try to find an alternative contact.

4. Call for help when the agent appears ready to act immediately.

In the most serious cases – if an impending self-harm is not only known but is imminent – call the emergency number 911, an emergency contact or, if known, a treating therapist. Ask to have the agent taken directly to the hospital for examination and treatment.

5. Do not drive the employee to the hospital in your own car.

A caring employer may want to drive the worker to the hospital himself, but doing so could put both the employer and the worker at risk, Solomon and McElhaney said. “You don’t want to put the manager in such a risk … that the employee is on their way to the hospital [is] for example, swing open the car door in the middle of a busy freeway, “said Solomon.

6. Do it yourself.

Maintaining mental health is a continuous journey; If you’re worried about an employee, or an employee has already gone through a crisis and is back to work, log in more than once and move on. “It’s not enough just to pass them on [employee assistance program] or to say, ‘How are you?’ and you have a nice chat, ”said McElhaney. “Follow them. See how they’re doing. ”

But “ask a real question that will get a real answer,” McElhaney said. A superficial “How are you?” It may feel like a decent check-in, but it will likely get an equally shallow response. “You have to do a little more with communication,” he said. “Ask something specific. ‘COVID-19 has been really tough for everyone who works from home. How has it affected you?’ And then actively listen. ”

7th Create a workplace contingency plan that includes the risk of suicide.

Employers can now take many steps to reduce the risk of a suicide scenario. Hold meetings with all employees who have an opportunity to discuss mental health. Offer workers work-funded “wellness” breaks and see if the mental health benefits are expanded. Talk to coworkers about what to do if they are worried about a coworker. Make sure employees are aware of everything their existing services can offer, from EAPs and free advice to telemedicine. Provide contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) along with performance information in the employee handbook.

Finally, build suicide awareness and prevention into your workplace contingency plan. In a crisis, it’s common to freeze or make the wrong call. Make sure managers and other employees are prepared and understand what to do if they see an imminent risk of suicide in the workplace.

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