ANNOUNCEMENT: Results from National Survey on Workplace Suicide Prevention Guidelines

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For More Information Contact:

Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas

Lead, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Workplace Task Force

SallySpencerThomas@Gmail.com 720-244-6535

September 10, 2018 (Washington DC). Today the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Workplace Task Force in partnership with United Suicide Survivors International and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shared preliminary data from a national survey on workplace suicide prevention. Earlier this summer the CDC released a report announcing that all states but one experienced rising suicide rates from 1999-2016, and half of the states had increases of more than 30%. The report noted that more than half of the people who died did not have a known mental health condition and that other life stressors like job strain/transition, financial concerns and relationship problems also contributed to suicide risk. They concluded that we must look beyond only mental health support for prevention; they specifically called on employers to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. From July 23-August 20, 2018 the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Workplace Task Force in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and United Suicide Survivors International conducted a national study to get input on how to build the first set of National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention in the United States. This survey is part of a larger needs and strengths assessment involving focus groups and stakeholder interviews. A full summary of the findings from all data collection and recommendations for the guidelines will be published later this year.

ABOUT THE SURVEY AND THE PARTICIPANTS

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The survey was created by members of the Workplace Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention with input from many people with lived experience with suicide. Research and program evaluation consultants also weighed in on the survey’s design and scope. The survey was distributed through the networks and social media reach of the projects’ partners for almost a two month period.  When the survey closed 256 people (73% completion rate) had responded from 41 states. The majority of people who responded (58%) were from mid-sized to large companies. The majority (55%) of participants held leadership (Manager to C-Suite) roles in the company.

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The industries most commonly represented included healthcare/social assistance (27%), construction (24%), education (12%), public administration (6%), and finance/insurance (5%) with all other industries representing less than 5% of the total group.

Health and Safety Connection

When asked “How is your role connected to the health and safety of the company?” In an open ended format, participants responded:

    • 27% said that health and safety were a primary focus of their job (but on closer inspection of these responses at least 50% were because they were providing services to others as part of the mission of the company, not as a primary function for the employees of the company)
    • 18% Didn’t feel their role was connected at all or were unsure
    • 7% Said that everyone’s role is connected to health and safety
    • The rest listed that their particular role was linked to workplace health and safety through various roles and responsibilities.

Lived Experience

The degree of lived experience among the participants was significant:

  • 46% had at least one friend, co-worker or family member attempt suicide
  • 43% had lost at least one friend to suicide
  • 35% had been a caregiver or support resource to someone living with suicidal thoughts or after an attempt
  • 34% had at least one family member die of suicide
  • 34% stated that they have lived/live with suicidal thoughts
  • 20% had lost a co-worker to suicide
  • 15% lived through at least one suicide attempt
  • 11% had no direct experience

SURVEY RESULTS

Motivations

The participants had many motivations for why they were interested in workplace suicide prevention. Ranked priorities included:

#1: Increase employee health and well-being (86%)

#2: Right thing to do (72%)

#3: Prevent workplace homicide-suicide (56%)

#4: Increase employee safety and productivity (55%)

#5: Improve employee engagement and retention (43%)

#6: Decrease presenteeism and absenteeism (30%)

Barriers

Many challenges and barriers were identified. The biggest challenge identified was getting leaders to buy in (47%) followed by lack of funding (39%) and time (30%). Less frequently cited barriers included “we would rather focus just on mental wellness and resilience” (19%), “branding concerns — we don’t want others to think we have a problem with suicide” (18%), “I don’t think my company has a problem with suicide” (12%), and “We don’t feel it is appropriate for the company to focus on such a personal/individual matter” (10%). Other responses written in for this question centered on stigma and fear, confusion on where to start or conflicting directives regarding privacy. Several responses stated this issue was simply never one they considered before. 

When asked about content priorities, participants indicated that all of our suggestions were important (rating most 4 or 5 on our 5-point Likert scale); however, there were slight variations that resulted in this priority ranking:

Most important content areas (weighted average 4.09-4.35):

#1: Management training in how to support and accommodate employees experiencing a suicide crisis

#2: Crisis response — policy and protocol, especially to help families bereaved by suicide

#3: Awareness raising regarding suicide and suicide prevention

#4: Reintegrating employees after a mental health or suicide crisis

#5: Leadership engagement in suicide prevention

 

Second tier priorities (weighted average 3.94-4.07):

#6 (tied): Skill building related to suicide prevention

#6 (tied): Mental health literacy

#7: Evaluating EAP and Union Assistance Program services for capacity to support mental wellness and suicidal employees

#8: Integration into wellness programs

#9: Building resilience

#10: Making the business case for suicide prevention

 

Third tier priorities (weighted average 3.52-3.79):

#11: Performance management when mental health issues are a concern

#12: Legal/HR issues and suicide prevention in the workplace

#13: Drug and alcohol literacy as related to workplace injuries and case management

#14: Screening for mental health conditions and suicidal thoughts

#15: Reducing access to lethal means (e.g., firearms, high places, lethal medication)

When asked what features they would like to see within the National Guidelines, participants were most interested in links to well-organized and described resources (74%) followed by downloadable policy templates (66%). Additionally, they thought some sort of visible acknowledgement of other companies who have pledged to implement guidelines would be helpful (53%) along with company leadership endorsement (52%). Of equal priority were mini on-line video tutorials/webinars as well as someone to contact if there were questions. Of lower importance were case studies (33%) and recognition of achievement at each step of the process (23%).

The survey closed with an open-ended question, “Any additional comments you'd like to make about the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention?” Here 30 people posted responses, most emphasizing their gratitude for the importance of the Guidelines as well as the urgency to “get it done.” Some underscored the need to “keep it simple” and to start slowly as many workplaces are confused and fearful about the topic of suicide.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this gap analysis survey is one of several tools being used to help build the National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention. Additionally, results from focus groups, stakeholder interviews and other expert input will shape both the content and format of the Guidelines. The survey identified high level motivations for (predominantly around worker well-being) and barriers (lack of leadership buy-in and resources) for the Guidelines. Content priorities identified through the survey focused on prevention (raising awareness/leadership engagement), intervention (management training) and crisis response strategies (reintegration and bereaved family support).

Participants were also clear on features they hoped to see that would help them become incentivized to engage with the guidelines (visible acknowledgment and leadership endorsement), prioritize where to start, and find clear navigation for “just in time” tools (well-organized resources, policy templates and tutorials). 

The strengths of this survey are that there was good representation of people from different parts of the country, representing diverse roles, levels of leadership, and industries. Most people who completed the survey also had some form of personal or professional experience with suicide, which may explain why they took the time to give input; however, this level of lived experience may be representative of the country. 

The sentiment from the participants was that these guidelines are needed and overdue, and many expressed a sense of hopefulness that the impact would make a difference to employees and their families.