Next time you think your job is particularly challenging, think about the job that Sergeant Kevin Briggs had. He spent a number of years patrolling the southern end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a popular site for suicide attempts, intervening in those attempts and saving hundreds in the process. In a sobering, deeply personal TED talk Briggs shares stories from those he’s spoken — and listened — to standing on the edge of life. He also offers powerful advice to all who might be in a position to intervene, particularly those with loved ones who might be contemplating suicide.

You can also view this video and an interactive transcript at TED.
You can also read the moving story of a reunion he had last year with a survivor who he helped a number of years ago – he talks about it in the Ted talk.
What employers can do
According to the American Association of Suicidology, nearly two-thirds of all suicides occur among the nation’s work force, Americans ages 25-65, which translates to roughly 20,000 suicides a year. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) suggests that employers can play an important role in helping to prevent suicide. Because people spend such a significant portion of their day at work, employers have the opportunity to observe changes in behavior, personality or mood. Training managers to be alert for and make referrals when they observe signs of depression and other early warning signs of problems may save lives. SPRC points to the following warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide or death
  • Making statements like “I wish I were dead.” and “I’m going to end it all.”
  • Less direct verbal cues, including “What’s the point of living?” “Soon you won’t have to worry about me” and “Who cares if I’m dead, anyway?”
  • Uncharacteristically isolating themselves from others in the workplace
  • Expressing feelings that life is meaningless or hopeless
  • Giving away cherished possessions
  • A sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn
  • Neglect of appearance and hygiene
  • Sudden unexplained deterioration of work performance or productivity

Many suicide prevention groups suggest an easy mnemonic to remember warning signs: IS PATH WARM
Ideation
Substance Abuse
Purposelessness
Anxiety
Trapped
Hopelessness
Withdrawal
Anger
Recklessness
Mood Changes
In the video above, Briggs says:

“What would you do if your family member, friend or loved one was suicidal? What would you say? Would you know what to say? In my experience, it’s not just the talking that you do, but the listening. Listen to understand. Don’t argue, blame, or tell the person you know how they feel, because you probably don’t. By just being there, you may just be the turning point that they need. If you think someone is suicidal, don’t be afraid to confront them and ask the question. One way of asking them the question is like this: “Others in similar circumstances have thought about ending their life; have you had these thoughts?” Confronting the person head-on may just save their life and be the turning point for them. Some other signs to look for: hopelessness, believing that things are terrible and never going to get better; helplessness, believing that there is nothing that you can do about it; recent social withdrawal; and a loss of interest in life.”

The holiday season can be a particularly difficult and stressful time for many. If you observe warning signs or changes in behavior or personality, don’t try to diagnose the problem or find the reason for the behavior changes, simply help the employee to find professional assistance through your EAP or an occupational health specialist. Work performance can be a great leverage for getting people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek help for a problem. For an additional resource, the World Health Organization has a 32-page booklet on Preventing Suicide – A Resource at Work. Also see the SPRC’s employer guide: The Role of Managers in Preventing Suicide in the Workplace


When complex employee issues arise, ESI EAP offers member employers direct access to Certified Senior Professionals in Human Resources (SPHR) and senior clinical counselors. If you need an Employee Assistance Program give us a call: 800-535-4841.

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